STDs from toilet seats

Germs in restrooms may concern you. So, you may want to learn about the viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can survive on bathroom surfaces and identify ways you can avoid taking those germs with you.

When wondering what diseases you can catch in restrooms, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — may be one of your greatest concerns.

STDs mainly transmit through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and sometimes, during activities like:‌

Most STDs don’t transmit through:

  • Restroom toilet seats
  • Other hard surfaces
  • Shaking hands or hugging
  • Using the same towels or dishes as someone‌
  • Insect bites

‌‌But there may be some that you may need to be careful about.

Bacterial STDs

These diseases include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Bacteria that cause STDs live in the mucous membranes around your penis, vagina, anus, and mouth. But they can’t survive for long outside the mucous membranes.

Viral STDs

If an STD is viral, it can spread outside the mucus membranes and to other skin cells. The viruses that cause STDs don’t spread far but can survive on porous skin near your mucous membranes. Viral STDs include:

Parasitic STDs

Some STDs are caused by live parasites like trichomoniasis and pubic lice — also called crabs. Parasitic STDs can happen on surfaces including:

  • Toilet seats
  • Towels
  • Clothing
  • Bedsheets‌
  • Blankets

The only way to get a parasitic STD is for your genitals to come into direct contact with a toilet seat while a live parasite is present there. But, this may happen in rare cases because parasites can’t live for a long time on hard surfaces like toilet seats. Still, they do live longer than viruses and bacteria.

Exceptions to the rule

You are not likely to catch a viral or bacterial disease on a toilet seat. Physical contact has to be “back-to-back” for you to contract a bacterial or viral infection from a toilet seat.

A person’s genitals have to come into direct contact with the toilet seat surface. You have to then sit with your genitals in the exact same place soon after the original transmission happened.

To contract viruses like HIV, you must have an open wound for the virus to reach your bloodstream. Your open wound has to be in direct contact with the same surface soon after another person’s genitals touched it.

Genital herpes can spread from an infected person even if they don't have sores. As with HIV, your genitals would have to come into direct contact with a surface very soon after an infected person. Transmission of genital herpes in restrooms and on toilet seats is very unlikely.

Illness-causing viruses and bacteria

Aside from STDs, you may also worry about other germs that make you sick. Similar to STDs, most viruses and bacteria don't live long on hard, cold surfaces you find in restrooms.

For example, the common cold virus doesn’t transmit easily by touching surfaces. You are more likely to catch illness-causing viruses and bacteria from physical contact with another person.

You can also get sick if someone nearby is sick and they cough or sneeze.

Norovirus infection

The norovirus is often called the stomach bug. You are more likely to contract this virus in a restroom. The norovirus lives in fecal matter, and it causes vomiting and diarrhea. The norovirus also lives longer than other viruses on a hard surface like a toilet seat.

A person may transfer norovirus to door and faucet handles after wiping.

Protecting yourself from restroom diseases

It’s always a good idea to take precautions to prevent disease transmission in restrooms. Wipe off the toilet seat in a public restroom before sitting on it. You can also use toilet paper or a toilet seat cover to prevent direct contact with your skin. Sit down carefully to prevent your genitals from touching the seat directly.

Not everyone washes their hands after using the restroom — but you should. Ensuring that your hands are completely clean before leaving the restroom helps you stop norovirus transmission.

After washing your hands, dry them off using a paper towel or an air dryer. Avoid touching the faucet again with your hands to turn it off. If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door handle to leave the restroom. If that’s not possible, use your elbow to turn off the faucet. Also, use your elbow or foot to open the door.

Not all restrooms have paper towels. As a precaution, carry tissues on your person. Hold one in your hand when you touch restroom surfaces to prevent disease transmission.

If you think you may have an STD or other illness, talk to your doctor about your symptoms right away. Early treatment is key to getting better quickly. If left untreated, STDs may lead to other health concerns.

QUESTION

Condoms are the best protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 9/27/2021
References
SOURCES:

Beth Isreal Lehay Health Winchester Hospital: "True or False: It Is Possible for a Person to Get a Sexually Transmitted Infection from a Public Toilet Seat."

Mayo Clinic: "Can you get genital herpes from a toilet seat?"

Stanford Children’s Hospital: "What You Need to Know About STDs."

University of Leicester: "Can you catch germs from a public toilet seat?"