No, There Is Not Poo On 60 Percent Of Toothbrushes
MyFox Chicago writes: “GROSS: Your toothbrush probably has feces on it”. RawStory writes that your toothbrush “probably has poop on it”. On the Huffington Post, we find the headline “Your Toothbrush Likely Has Poop On It”.
The storyline is simple: Scientists did a study of the toothbrushes of people who live with other people and share bathrooms, and found that 60 percent of toothbrushes have human shit on them, and most of that shit doesn’t even belong to the people who are brushing their teeth. MNT Knowledge Center writes that “more than 60% of toothbrushes were contaminated with fecal matter – most likely from other bathroom users”.
Get the message? Your toothbrush is poopy! Panic!
Ok, actually don’t panic. Try thinking instead.
These articles, and thousands of others printed by journalists this last week, refer to the results of a study presented at the latest meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. That source should tip people off that the frightening headlines about feces on toothbrushes are actually referring to something a bit more subtle.
Look at the original press release from the American Society for Microbiology, and you’ll see that the research didn’t actually measure fecal matter in toothbrushes. Instead, the researchers measured fecal coliforms – bacteria that often life in feces – that were on the toothbrushes.
The trick is that fecal coliforms are not found exclusively in people’s shit. They are found, as this study suggests, living on toothbrushes. They are also found on people’s smart phones. Coliform bacteria live on computer keyboards and in coffee mugs and kitchen sinks. Kitchen cutting boards have twice the amount of fecal coliform bacteria as toilet seats. Fecal coliform live in shoes and TV remotes and lamp switches and
Fecal coliform bacteria also live in men’s beards. A lot of men grow beards these days, and when men with beards brush their teeth, their toothbrushes touch their beards, and can become contaminated with coliform bacteria in this way. It doesn’t mean that there’s shit on the toothbrush.
Coliform bacteria are all around us – even in the air and water. That’s what you get when you’re on a planet full of living things. If you can’t deal with that, you might try sterilizing yourself on the Moon – but you’d probably get sick as a result, as you wouldn’t have the beneficial microorganisms that we rely on to keep us healthy.