Should you worry about getting sick from the dorm bathroom?

Bac(teria) It Up With Facts
A single gram-negative Salmonella typhimurium bacterium caught in the act of cell division.
A single gram-negative Salmonella typhimurium bacterium caught in the act of cell division.

If you're developing anxiety that your dorm bathroom is nothing more than a glorified petri dish, be warned: It is. The good news is that pretty much anything with a surface is just as filthy, and bathrooms -- even those shared by people only casually interested in hygiene -- are probably no more harmful to us than our own handbag. Or kitchen. Or keyboard.

Yes, our purses, regularly scrubbed kitchens and tended-to computers have all been shown to carry just as many microbes as the bathroom toilet. Or, as one study that took 280 samples from eight office kitchens so delicately put it, 75 percent of office kitchens are harboring more bacteria than a "female sanitary bin" [source: Innes]. Or hey, turns out that a dorm room refrigerator handle has twice as many bacteria as shared dorm toilet handles, so take heart [source: Reckitt Benckiser].

Of course, that doesn't mean dorm bathrooms (or public restrooms in general) are "clean." One 2011 study found that yes, public restrooms are in fact teeming with germs -- in fact, there was a surprising diversity of bacteria in a bathroom, from soil to skin contaminants [source: Flores et al.]. But that doesn't mean the bathroom is likely to make you ill more often or more seriously.

A lot of folks assume that pathogenic bacteria and other microbes -- especially from others -- should be eradicated in order to have a "clean" environment. And that's kind of true, if you reflect on how strapping they are. Consider that if every single salmonella organism were destroyed -- minus one -- that little guy (doubling every 30 minutes) would be able to give everyone in the world diarrhea in less than a week [source: Adler]. It's enough to make you want to not just bleach your entire dorm bathroom, but also your roommate, while you're at it.

Don't get out the hazmat suit yet though. As we pointed out, there aren't a lot of surfaces in the world that aren't harboring bacteria and viruses. Read on to find out if being exposed to more germs (not to mention the people who carry them) is putting you at greater risk.

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