Study: Toothbrush contamination likely in communal bathrooms

Researchers found fecal coliforms on more than half of toothbrushes in communal bathrooms at a university in a new study, presented at the recent American Society for Microbiology annual meeting in New Orleans.

After testing the toothbrushes in communal bathrooms at Quinnipiac University, the researchers found that "there was an 80% chance that the fecal coliforms seen on the toothbrushes came from another person using the same bathroom." The findings confirm that toothbrushes can serve as a vector for transmitting potentially pathogenic organisms, the study authors noted.

"The main concern is not with the presence of your own fecal matter on your toothbrush, but rather when a toothbrush is contaminated with fecal matter from someone else, which contains bacteria, viruses, or parasites that are not part of your normal flora," stated study leader Lauren Aber, a graduate student at Quinnipiac University, in a press release.

For the study, researchers collected all toothbrushes from participants using communal bathrooms at the university, with an average of 9.4 occupants per bathroom. They found that, regardless of the storage method, more than half of the toothbrushes were contaminated with fecal coliforms.

The researchers also considered the effectiveness of the decontamination methods, such as cold water, hot water, and rinsing with mouthwash, and they found no differences with the effectiveness of the methods.

In addition, they noted that using a toothbrush cover didn't protect a toothbrush from bacterial growth, "but actually creates an environment where bacteria are better suited to grow by keeping the bristles moist and not allowing the head of the toothbrush to dry out between uses," Aber stated.

Better hygiene practices are recommended for students who share bathrooms, both in storing their toothbrushes and in personal hygiene, she added. " Sanitization and storage practices of a toothbrush are very important to the potential bacteria present on a toothbrush," the study authors noted.

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