Is Reading in the Toilet a Concern?
This is a familiar sight in the early morning rush hour of Singapore. We see people (pause) reading (pause) newspaper. They can be seated or in standing position, with their papers opened at 45 degrees due to the space constraint in the very crowded train. Try as they might as there is little elbow space and very often, we do get brushed when they flipped the newspaper.
Have you ever wondered if the persons who are reading the newspaper next to you (gesturing left and right) do so in the loo? And if so, would you be sick because the same newspaper has touched you? And if you are one of those people who read in the toilet, is reading in the toilet good for you?
A very good afternoon, Club President, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests, today, I shall share with you my findings from some medical reports on the public health consequences of reading in the toilet.
There are two which I have studied – one is by Dr Ron Shaoul published in 2009. He is a paediatric gastroenterologist, in layman term, he is a doctor for the children, hence the term paediatric, specializing in the digestive function. Dr Shaoul has drew up a questionnaire and together with his colleagues, they had about five hundreds of people from all shapes and sizes completing it. Another is by Ms Val Curtis, director of Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has also in last year conducted a study in Britain on similar matter. Today, I shall share the salient findings from their reports by using a question-and-answer format.
There are three questions which I will seek to answer. They are:
1. From a medical standpoint, do the reading materials become irreversibly infused with nasty contaminants when carried into the toilet?
2. How long can unpleasant microbes live on glossy magazine covers or, for that matter, the pages of a newspaper?
3. What does the straightforward act of reading on the toilet do for bowel movement? Is it good to read in the loo, or not?
Answer to qn 1, does reading in loo put us at risk of being infected by the bugs in the poo. Ms Curtis summed it up all, in theory there was a risk. However, in practice, the risk was very slim. And in her own words, “there is no need to get anal about it.”The important thing is to wash your hands with soap after using the loo to get the bugs off. This way, even if you happen to be in contact with a shit-smeared newspaper, wash your eyes before eating should keep you quite safe. Of course, if you refuse to do so, and later in your office, pick your nose when no one is watching, thereafter and rub your fingers in your eyes. You might well get an infection. For the determined, there is always a way. Don’t blame the person who read in the loo.
Q2, how long can microbes live on glossy magazines or pages of newspaper? Here is the good news. They don’t fare too well on non-absorbent surfaces. At best, they survive a few minutes. So by the time, the person reach the MRT station, all the microbes will have been long dead. How about smartphones, iPads? Unfortunately, such smart devices are not that smart when it comes to microbes. Their shiny and smooth surfaces are more accommodating and it is likely that bugs that live on those for hours. Curtis’ study suggested that one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal/excremental matter largely because people fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet. So don’t pick up smart devices lying around with your naked hands. Use a tissue instead.
Let’s move on to Q3, is reading in the loo good for you, in particular your bowel movement? Dr Shaoul thought that sitting and reading while doing your business might be relaxing and make things go better. Maybe it could just be the cure for constipation. As it turns out, it is not true. Toilet readers spend more in the loo and think that they are less constipated than non-toilet readers. Other measures of their defecation habit show that the two groups hardly differ. Shaoul’s work hints that toilet readers suffer more haemorrhoid or piles. But before you get too paranoid about it, the effect is negligible.
In conclusion, my dear friends, reading in the toilet while quite widespread, is a harmless habit. It alleviates boredom. Next time when your tummy hurts badly, you can use it as a distraction therapy. Back to you Toastmaster of the day.