Dangers of Virus Transmission in Public Spaces

The recent—and ongoing—COVID-19 pandemic has made the public keenly aware of the dangers of aerosol transmission of viruses and bacteria, but recent studies has found another potential transmission culprit: public toilets.

Researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University tested fecal samples from COVID-19 patients and found that some had potential to pass the virus along, because the virus attached itself to receptors in the intestines as opposed to the lungs.

So, the virus could be passed along via fecal-oral transmission. That means toilet flushing with the virus present in it could cause droplets to be inhaled because of the turbulent spray produced by flushing. What’s more, previous research found that the SARS virus and MERS can be transmitted the same way—flushing toilets produces a fine mist spray in the surrounding atmosphere and those virus-laden droplets become aerosolized, as well as landing on surfaces in common areas.

According to an article in the New York Times, the plume produced when flushing a toilet can rise three feet in the air, based on findings published in the journal Physics of Fluids. A research team found that flushing can force up to 60 percent of the aerosols high above the toilet seat. So, there are also increased dangers by touching surfaces, like doorknobs or handles and fixtures.

“The flushing process can lift the virus out of the toilet and cause cross-infection among people,” says Ji-Xiang Wang, a physicist and coauthor of a research paper published in the journal. What’s more, Computational Fluid Dynamics studies on the disruption of airflow during flushing of toilets shows that the pressure and suction of toilet flushing actually kicks up the air around toilets, furthering droplet spread. A Computational Fluid Dynamics study uses computer-generated models to simulate the flow of fluids—in this case, the airflow with fecal spray—to determine direction and force of transmission.

There’s an additional hazard. Many communal bathroom environments lack toilet seat lids that could be shut to prevent the spray and aerosolization of virus droplets. Further, auto-flushing toilets tend to produce a larger volume of water, which causes additional spray.

The hazards continue: public restroom hand dryers have been proven to keep droplets, bacteria, allergens and viruses suspended in the air, given that the force of air produced by the dryers isn’t localized.

Instead, the very act of placing hands under a hand dryer redirects airflow. So, things in the air tend to move more with hand dryers present. And that makes for a very problematic environment, with indoor air quality severely compromised.

All these issues add up to make the spread of deadly viruses a real threat in public places.

While an infected person is typically quarantined, with their bathroom use confined to the home, the same isn’t true for someone who has the virus but is asymptomatic—meaning they carry the virus, are infectious, but don’t exhibit any signs of being sick. So, they may go about daily routines, unaware of the deadly virus they are transmitting in public places.

There is, however, an effective way to combat aerosol transmission of viruses, bacteria and other airborne contaminants. By installing AeraMax Professional air purifiers, facility managers and building owners can effectively remove up to 99.97 percent of contaminants in enclosed spaces. These commercial-grade air purifiers use a four-stage filtration system with True HEPA filtration to effectively and efficiently remove the contaminants, automatically.

Best yet, these units employ patented EnviroSmart™ Technology that senses sound, motion and odors in a room, automatically adjusting to optimize performance. That way, the units work when they have to…conserving energy and maximizing operations while providing air exchanges. The system is truly “set it and forget it,” with the units working tirelessly in the background to improve the lives and health of occupants during this pandemic and into the future.