Transmission of Viruses from Restroom Use: A Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment

Sarah E. Abney, Ciara A. Higham, Amanda M. Wilson, M. Khalid Ijaz, Julie McKinney, Kelly A. Reynolds, Charles P. Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Restroom use has been implicated in a number of viral outbreaks. In this study, we apply quantitative microbial risk assessment to quantify the risk of viral transmission by contaminated restroom fomites. We estimate risk from high-touch fomite surfaces (entrance/exit door, toilet seat) for three viruses of interest (SARS-CoV-2, adenovirus, norovirus) through eight exposure scenarios involving differing user behaviors, and the use of hand sanitizer following each scenario. We assessed the impacts of several sequences of fomite contacts in the restroom, reflecting the variability of human behavior, on infection risks for these viruses. Touching of the toilet seat was assumed to model adjustment of the seat (open vs. closed), a common touch point in single-user restrooms (home, small business, hospital). A Monte Carlo simulation was conducted for each exposure scenario (10,000 simulations each). Norovirus resulted in the highest probability of infection for all exposure scenarios with fomite surfaces. Post-restroom automatic-dispensing hand sanitizer use reduced the probability of infection for each virus by up to 99.75%. Handwashing within the restroom, an important risk-reduction intervention, was not found to be as effective as use of a non-touch hand sanitizer dispenser for reducing risk to near or below 1/1,000,000, a commonly used risk threshold for comparison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-78
Number of pages14
JournalFood and Environmental Virology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Fomites
  • Hygiene
  • Public health
  • QMRA
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Food Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Virology


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