Print this articleReduce font sizeIncrease font sizeWomen often opt to squat over the seats without touching themMany women fear contracting infections when it comes to using public toilets; many prefer to hold it in. But is it advisable? BM asks doctorsMany women will relate to the fear of contracting infections while using public toilets. The fear is real; most hold their pee for hours to avoid using a shared restroom in a public place. Unfortunately, this preventive measure is unhelpful as it can increase the risk of infection, doctors said.Dr Varini N, senior consultant, obstetrician and gynaecologist, Milann Fertility and Birthing Hospital, said public toilets are home to many bacteria, viruses and other bugs (arthropods like ticks and lice). So the fear of contracting UTIs here is a legitimate concern.“Dirty toilets and poor personal hygiene can be sources of many infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginal infections, gastro-enteritis and skin infections like herpes and fungal infections. It is not just toilet seats that harbour these organisms; door handles, toilet paper, flush tanks, water hoses, valve handles, sink, liquid and solid soap, tissues and electrical driers may also be contaminated with disease-causing organisms,” the doctor said.So while public toilets could be a source of infection, contracting them only by public toilets is less likely.“Women with weaker immunity due to diabetes, post-menopausal stress, those on immunosuppressant medicines or immunodeficiency syndrome, are more likely to contract infections from public toilets. Other causes of infection could be poor intake of fluids and poor hygiene,” Dr Varini said.Dr Sapna Raina, senior consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, Narayana Health City, said the anatomy of the male and female body differs. “In women, the urethral opening is very close to the vagina as well as the anus, which makes it easy for bacteria to travel into the urethra and bladder, causing infection. Even the distance from the urethral opening to the bladder is less in women compared to men. Once a female gets UTI, 25 to 30 per cent have recurrent infection within six months, especially if diabetic.”The doctor said repeated UTIs can cause permanent kidney damage from acute or chronic kidney infection, renal abscess, papillary necrosis and so on. Urethral strictures can occur causing difficulty in passing urine. If pregnant, UTI can lead to preterm labour and low birth weight babies. “Sepsis can occur if UTI is untreated… in turn it can cause multi-organ dysfunction and shock.”Dr Raina said some tend to wipe the toilet seat with paper before use, while some hover over it in a semi-squat posture without touching the toilet and some even carry devices that help them stand and pee. “Most women often make the other common-sense choice of holding their pee until they get home which may not be advisable. Holding it in could often be more of a cause of urinary infections.”Dr Prathima Reddy, director and lead consultant, department of obstetrics and gynaecology, SPARSH Hospital for Women and Children, said “The infection does not get transmitted directly due to use of toilets. If the toilet is clean and there is a separate seat cover in the western-style toilet it surely helps and gives a sense of cleanliness and hygiene. Using seat sanitizers or other products does not necessarily reduce the risk. Make sure you do not hold your urine and continue to drink plenty of water to flush out the urine. Avoid touching surfaces in public toilets. Half standing while peeing may also help. Lastly, wipe afterwards… Wipe from front to back and not the other way around. Using tissues available in public toilets may not be very hygienic,” she said.
Make sure you do not hold your urine and continue to drink plenty of water to flush out the urine. Avoid touching surfaces in public restrooms– Dr Prathima Reddy, SPARSH Hospital for Women and ChildrenRisk factors for UTIFurther, Dr Raina said many pregnant women have trouble emptying their bladder because a womb with a developing baby sits on top of the bladder during pregnancy. Leftover urine with bacteria in it can cause a UTI.After menopause, vaginal tissue becomes thin and dry. This can make it easier for harmful bacteria to grow and cause a UTI. Sexual activity can also move germs that cause UTI from other areas, such as the vagina, to the urethra.If you have diabetes, which can weaken your immune system, it can cause nerve damage that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder.Using a diaphragm for birth control or use of spermicides (creams that kill sperm) with a diaphragm or with condoms can cause infection too.SymptomsDysuria, painful micturition, increased urinary urgency and frequency, sensation of bladder fullness or lower abdominal discomfort, lower abdominal tenderness, flank pain, bloody urine, fever, chills and malaise are symptoms of UTIs that require a doctor’s consultation. GALLERIES View more photosMost Popular