Toilet Diseases: of real and imagined infections


Growing up, I heard a lot about toilet diseases. My aunties, female friends and sister all had one story or the other to share about the possible diseases one could contract from using a public toilet. Medical school did not eliminate these misconceptions, because none of my classmates was silly enough to ask any of our professors, questions on the veracity of the stories we had all been fed, but medical practice brought these questions alive, time and time again.

Most women assume that every vaginal discharge they have is a sign of some venereal disease; and per adventure they use a shared toilet, they begin to assume that, they have contracted an imaginary toilet disease.

For starters, there is nothing like a toilet disease!

One cannot contract a sexually transmitted disease from using a shared toilet–except the person was actually having sex on the toilet seat. Bacteria and other germs abound on every conceivable surface–on tables, seats, railings etc. So, there are germs on toilet seats. But while it is indeed theoretically possible to be infected by bacteria on a shared toilet seat, the chances are extremely low.

Vaginitis is the medical term for infections of the vagina. If the infection involves the external genitalia of the woman, it is termed vulvovaginitis. These conditions which often manifest with vaginal discharges can be caused by irritations from creams, sprays, foreign objects and even some underwear or other clothing that come in contact with that area. More commonly, they may be caused by bacteria, yeast or viruses.

Every woman has vaginal discharge,and, not all vaginal discharges are abnormal. Normal discharge is colourless and not foul smelling. However, most women will have some form of abnormal vaginal discharge at one point or the other in their lives.

Symptoms of a vaginal infection

The three most common vaginal infections seen in women are

1. Bacterial vaginosis

2. Vaginal yeast and

3. Trichomoniasis.

Of these infections, Bacterial vaginosis is responsible for almost 50% of all cases. Women who douche (wash their vagina with water after sexual intercourse); women using an intrauterine device for family planning as well as pregnant women are at risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis.

It is also related to sexual intercourse –so virgins have nothing to fear.

Women with bacterial vaginosis usually have an abnormal vaginal discharge that is white or grey with associated fish-like smell.

Vaginal yeast infection is caused by a fungus –mainly candida albicans. It is caused by an over growth of normally growing yeast in the vagina. The body has its own means of controlling the growth of this yeast, but sometimes through a woman’s activities such as over usage of antibiotics, development of Diabetes, use of steroids, use of birth control pills, tight underwear or changes in the immunity of the woman, there could be an accompanying over growth of the yeast in the vagina.

The discharge seen in yeast infection is thick (like cheese, (wara) with associated itching, soreness and redness during sex.

But some women may have no symptoms.

Trichomoniasis is the most curable sexually transmitted infection, and is caused by trichomonasvaginalis. The symptoms include a yellowish-greenish vaginal discharge with a foul vaginal odour, pain during sexual intercourse, pain during urination,vaginal itching and sometimes pain around the female reproductive area.


The diagnosis of any of the infections described above, and indeed most medical conditions can only be made after the doctor has listened to the symptoms listed above; carried out examinations and sometimes, conducted some tests. Often, due to the well-known symptoms and the fear of complications, the doctor may commence treatment of the infection while waiting for the laboratory test results.

Treatment depends on the severity of the infection, the type of infection, duration of infection and the presence or absence of pregnancy.

As vaginitis can be caused by different agents –infectious and non-infectious- the treatment needs to be specific to the type of vaginitis diagnosed.

Sometimes, a woman might only need to change her soap, laundry detergent or discontinue a practice such as douching, the use of a tampon etc. to experience complete remission of symptoms.

That said, when next your friend tells you about toilet diseases, listen carefully to her, agree with her on the need to be careful about public toilets, and then share this with her.

—Dr. Luke

Picture 1©HealthyLearn®

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Picture 2©University of Florida

Academic Centre article on vaginitis

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Effectual Magazine is a faith based and lifestyle magazine for women and those who love them. Effectual Magazine is a free on line magazine.

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