Can You Get an STD from a Toilet Seat?

    Can You Get an STD from a Toilet Seat?
    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 16 September 2019
    Fact Checked
    Dr. Anna Klepchukova
    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK
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    Do you avoid using public restrooms and cringe when you have to? While there are tons of germs to look out for, the good news is that it's rare to get an STD from a toilet seat. Can you get herpes from a toilet seat? Keep reading to find out.

    Can you get herpes from a toilet seat?

    It's nearly impossible to get genital herpes from a toilet seat. It's a sexually transmitted disease spread by skin-to-skin contact. Typically, the virus gets into the body via mucous membranes found in your genitals, mouth, or anus. The virus also gets into your body through tiny tears and scrapes. Symptoms include raw, cracked, or red areas on the genitals with no tingling or pain. You may also experience itching or tingling near the genitals or anus. Small blisters sometimes break open and develop into painful sores.

    It's possible to have herpes for years and not know it. The virus may spread even when an infected person doesn't have genital sores. However, the virus can't survive outside the body, so it's nearly impossible to contract from toilets, towels, or other objects.

    Can you get HPV from a toilet seat?

    You can't catch human papillomavirus (HPV) from a toilet seat. HPV infections are skin conditions that affect different parts of the body, such as the cervix, anus, and mouth. Some strains of HPV have symptoms including warts on the genitals, hands, face, or scalp. One of the most common strains cause genital warts, which are highly contagious, and spread from skin-to-skin contact. 

    HPV can't be killed with disinfectants, and people can be infected by medical tools harboring the virus. Pregnant women may pass the virus to unborn children. But you won’t catch it from a toilet seat.

    Can you get chlamydia from a toilet seat?

    Chlamydia in women can also be passed from a mother to their baby during delivery. However, chlamydia isn't spread by toilet seats, bed linens, kissing, doorknobs, hot tubs, swimming pools, silverware, or clothes.

    Chlamydia is a tiny parasitic bacterium that requires the biochemical mechanisms of a living cell to reproduce. It causes conditions like trachoma — a roughening of the inner surface of the eyelid that can lead to blindness — and urethritis, which causes painful urination. Chlamydia also causes cervicitis, vaginitis, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

    Chlamydia is transmitted during unprotected sexual activity. The bacteria are found in the genital secretions of infected people. Wearing a condom during sex can greatly decrease the risk of getting chlamydia.

    What infections can you get from sitting on a toilet seat?

    Although the chances of getting an STI like chlamydia or gonorrhea from a toilet seat are slim to none, there are other infections you can get from a toilet seat.

    The truth is, many disease-causing organisms only live a short time on the toilet seat. In order to get the infection, the germs need to be transferred into your urethral or genital tract or via a sore or cut on the thighs or buttocks.

    Let's look at some of the infections that you may need to worry about.

    • Escherichia coli, or E. coli, can be found in fecal matter. Toilets are the perfect breeding ground for this bacteria. E. coli is found in your intestines, but if you're exposed to it from contaminated food, water, or nonporous toilet seats, you could suffer from diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
    • Gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus, often mistaken for “food poisoning,” cause stomach issues similar to E. coli. They are easily transmitted and can live on contaminated nonporous surfaces such as toilet seats for up to two weeks, even if the toilets were cleaned.
    • Shigella bacteria is passed from person to person, especially when people don’t wash their hands properly. Shigella infections are similar to E. coli and spread when an infected person's feces contaminate a surface, including toilet seats, handles, and lids. 
    • Streptococcus is a bacteria that causes strep throat and bronchial pneumonia. It can also cause contagious skin infections such as impetigo. Many bathrooms harbor this bacteria.      

    Ways to prevent catching bacteria from public toilets

    The good news is that there are many ways to limit your contact with bacteria in the bathroom, such as the following steps:

    • Limit what you bring into the restroom, starting with your phone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 20% of cell phones have more fecal matter than a toilet seat. If you have to bring your belongings with you, at least leave your cell phone in your purse. Wipe the phone with alcohol wipes after using it while in a restroom.
    • Avoid putting your purse on the floor while in the restroom. It's much better to hang it on a hook and avoid setting it down on any restroom surfaces if at all possible.
    • One study of public restrooms revealed 77,990 kinds of bacteria and viruses, including staph. Staph is common on skin surfaces but can cause life-threatening infections. Washing your hands thoroughly after restroom use is crucial if you want to avoid as many bacteria and germs as possible. 
    • How you dry your hands also makes a difference. Paper towels are much more sanitary than blow dryers in public bathrooms due to constant toilet flushing. You might want to consider taking an extra towel to turn off the faucet as well as to open and close the doors of the bathroom —  the fewer surfaces you touch, the safer you are in this environment.

    While it's rare (practically impossible) to get certain STDs from a toilet seat, there are plenty of other bacteria living in public bathrooms. That's why it's so important to take the precautions we've listed to reduce your risk as much as possible.

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)
    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK
    Published (16 September 2019)

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