Herpes is an extremely contagious disease, but it’s very unlikely you’ll get herpes from a toilet seat. Outside the body, the herpes virus lives a very short life. It dies quickly on surfaces, such as toilet seats. The odds you’ll contract herpes from a toilet seat, or any other surface for that matter, are very low.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) go so far as to say “you will not get herpes from toilet seats.”
How can you catch herpes?
Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s caused by two related viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes is very common in American adults. The CDC estimates more than 1 out of every 6 people between 14 and 49 have the virus.
Both types of herpes are transmitted through mucosal or secretion contact with a person who has the virus. This contact comes primarily during vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or through kissing. Herpes can also sometimes enter your body through abrasions, cuts, or scrapes if you come into contact with the virus.
Many people can have genital herpes and never know it. In fact, some people will have the virus for years before they show telltale signs or symptoms, such as genital blisters that break and ooze, or cold sores around the mouth. The virus can be dormant so long it may be difficult to know when you came into contact with it.
You may not have to worry about contracting herpes from a toilet seat, but you could pick up some other viruses and bacteria. One way germs are spread in a bathroom is from the toilet’s intense flush.
When you press the handle, the toilet sends up a fine spray of microbial droplets, which can land on nearby surfaces. When you, in turn, touch these surfaces, you can pick up any number of germs.
The following bacteria and viruses can be found on toilets and the surrounding areas:
- Streptococcus. This bacterium causes strep throat and an invasive skin infection called necrotizing fasciitis, which gives it the nickname “flesh-eating bacteria.”
- Shigella bacteria. This bacterium affects the digestive system. One of its common symptoms is diarrhea.
- Staphylococcus. Also called staph, this bacterium can linger on surfaces like toilet seats and pass from one person to the next. One type, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can survive on surfaces for as long as three months. It can spread during contact as brief as three seconds.
- Escherichia coli. Known as E. coli, this bacterium normally lives in the human intestines, but it can be spread from airborne toilet mist.
- Norovirus. This highly contagious, common virus can last on surfaces for almost two weeks.
- Influenza. The flu virus can live up to two or three days on nonporous surfaces like a toilet seat. It can also survive for that amount of time on your phone, remote control, or a door handle.
You might assume the toilet is the center for bacteria and germs in a bathroom, but research shows that’s not always the case.
One study found that bathroom floors are the surface with the most germs. More than 68 percent of the germs and bacteria on a bathroom floor come from the outdoors. Only as much a 15 percent comes from fecal matter.
This study didn’t place the toilet seat in the top of the list, but it did point to other bathroom hotbeds for germ activity, including:
- faucet handles
- towel dispensers
When using the restroom, especially in a public place, keep these tips in mind:
Use a restroom with paper towel covers
Fecal spray from the toilet can land on porous toilet paper, so look for a stall where a metal or plastic guard almost completely covers the paper towels.
Use antiseptic wipes
One study found that running an antiseptic wipe across the surface of the toilet seat can reduce bacteria by fiftyfold. Paper toilet seat covers, while convenient, may not be very effective. Most germs are small enough to slip through the paper’s porous fibers. Spray from the toilet can cover those papers, too.
Wash your hands
Almost 100 percent of men and women claim they wash their hands, but a survey found only 83 percent actually do.
Don’t shortcut the hand-washing technique. Pump soap into your hands, and scrub your hands, fingers, and under your fingernails for 20 to 30 seconds. Rinse well and repeat again.
Use your shoe to flush
You may already be familiar with this technique. Use your foot to flush instead of using your hand. You’ll avoid contact with at least one germy surface this way.
Use a paper towel to touch surfaces
Once you’ve thoroughly washed your hands, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door. You’ll prevent direct contact with any germs hanging out on those surfaces.
Don’t touch dryer vents
If you’re using a hot air dryer, use your elbow to turn on the machine. Avoid touching your hands to the machine’s vents. You may pick up latent germs from those surfaces.
If you’ve recently developed signs of a herpes infection, it’s important you make an appointment to see your doctor. Avoid any sexual contact until a diagnosis is made. Herpes can stay dormant in you or a partner for years. This means you may not see signs of the infection until long after you came into contact with the virus.
In almost all causes, a herpes infection is the result of direct skin-to-skin contact, such as during sexual intercourse. It’s very unlikely, if not impossible, that you’ll pick up herpes from a toilet seat. A healthy immune system and smart hygiene strategies can also help you avoid picking up other bugs and bacteria from toilet seats and bathrooms.