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'Toilet-seat contact dermatitis' sounds dire, but...

January 25, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Toilets Appearing in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics -- and thus in headlines -- is a warning about "toilet-seat contact dermatitis." The journal article says the condition is common around the world and that it's "re-emerging" in the United States.

We appreciate new health scares as much as the next person, but keep in mind that the article in question was a case report, not a full-fledged study, not an analysis, but a report on individual cases of a skin condition. How many cases? Five. Not all of them from this country.

Researchers at McGill University, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere are largely attempting to give fellow doctors a heads up about this form of dermatitis -- so rare that many of their colleagues may not recognize it. They're simply saying, hey, guys, should you find some weird rash on kids' posteriors, consider toilet seats as a culprit.

They're not even targeting all toilet seats, but rather what they call "exotic wooden toilet seats" and the  residue from chemicals used to clean toilet seats in general.

So don't panic. Contact dermatitis, which causes skin irritation on the buttocks and upper thighs, is easily treatable, if doctors know what they're seeing. Hence, the article.

Here's the abstract. Here's more information on contact dermatitis in general from eMedicine. And here's the Johns Hopkins news release, which contains tips on how to avoid the potential problem. The first one: Use paper toilet seat covers in public restrooms. The second one: At home, go for the considerably less exotic plastic toilet seat.

The breathless coverage of this relatively small journal article might be explained less by the actual threat and more by the term "poop dermatitis" in the release.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Harsh cleaners used to scour public toilets could, possibly, cause a skin reaction.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

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