Health officials have warned of “serious” risks posed by a growing number of toilets that have been found to have bacteria in them.
The New York Times reports that health inspectors have discovered some of the bacteria in some of New York City’s oldest hospitals.
In an emergency room, for instance, they found “the presence of bacteria that can cause a fever,” and in the same hospital, they discovered “the bacteria that causes pneumonia.”
They say they believe the “caveat emptor” is that they were not able to test for it in the first place.
The problem is that it’s a risk that has not been adequately addressed before.
According to the Times, the city’s health department has recommended that all new facilities install new toilet screens and filters, and to make sure they are disinfected before use.
But the health department also says that “it would be premature to tell patients not to use the facilities because of a potential health risk.”
This is particularly worrisome because the bacteria could cause more problems than it solves, says David Katz, who directs the Center for the Study of Health Security at New York University.
“The risk is still there,” Katz told the Times.
In fact, there are more than 2,500 “bacterial-related infections reported in the US each year, and a quarter of those are related to new toilets,” he told the paper.
There are also more than 20,000 “bacteria infections that have no known causes,” Katz said.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” he added.
And while some hospitals have already implemented some of these measures, there is no guarantee that they will be effective, says Katz.
“If you’re not confident that it will work, then it won’t,” he said.
He also added that he hopes the health commissioner will work with the city to make it easier for people to clean up after themselves.
The Health Department is urging anyone with concerns to call 311 or 311.gov, the phone number that’s been set up for people who have questions about what to do in an emergency.
If you’re worried about getting sick in an ambulance, Katz said, “call 911.”
In the meantime, he recommends “keeping a clean environment,” and not to leave anything on the toilet seat.
The Times reports some hospitals are also taking precautions against bacterial contamination.
“Toilets that have bacteria can be cleaned in a sterile environment by wiping down the surface with soap and water, or by wiping the area with disinfectant,” according to a city spokeswoman.