Can You Get an STI From a Toilet Seat?

You can note this worry as the one of the least when you're in the restroom.

When it comes to using public restrooms, you probably have the urge, or have been encouraged, to cover the toilet seat or squat over the toilet if you end up needing to use one. It's likely because these areas generally tend to have a lot of germs—especially if they are high-traffic restrooms that don't get the cleaning attention they need, according to a January 2022 Science of The Total Environment review.

It's normal to be worried about the potential of becoming ill after visiting a public restroom. You might especially be concerned that you may get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from sitting on a toilet seat. However, getting an STI may be one less concern to have if you need to use the restroom while you're out and about—and here's why.

How Are STIs Transmitted?

STIs may be transmitted from one person to another through different types of bodily contact with mouth, genitals, rectum, skin, and body fluids per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

The main way that the contact can happen is during unprotected (condomless) vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has an STI. Other ways that STIs can be transmitted are from a pregnant or breastfeeding individual to their child or through intimate physical contact, according to the Office on Women's Health (OWH).

So, How Likely Is It To Get an STI From a Toilet Seat?

There's little to no chance of getting an STI from sitting on a toilet seat: That chance would need to occur under very specific circumstances. For example, with hepatitis B or HIV (which can be spread through blood), transmission would require quick and close contact with bodily fluids (for example, blood on a toilet seat coming into contact with an open wound on a person's leg).

However, "[STIs] don't usually survive when they fall off the human body," said Christine Greves, MD, Health Advisory Board member and OB-GYN at the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. "A toilet seat doesn't offer an environment for [an STI] to thrive, so it can't live there for more than 10 seconds." In other words, STIs thrive on the environment that warm human tissue and fluids create, not that of cold, hard toilet seats.

What to Be Worried About When You Use a Public Restroom

This is not to say that toilets are free of bacteria, viruses, or other things that can make you sick. In the January 2022 Science of The Total Environment review, 17 studies mentioned microorganism presence in and around toilets. The researchers also found that germs like influenza A, norovirus (causes vomiting and diarrhea), and Staphylococcus aereus (causes skin or soft tissue infections) were discovered around toilets.

In terms of infectious disease transmission in restrooms overall, the January 2022 study identified "open-lid toilet flushing, ineffective handwashing or hand drying, substandard or infrequent surface cleaning, blocked drains, and uncovered rubbish bins" as the culprits for restroom-based bacterial or viral contamination.

This is why it is important to use soap and warm water, always make a stop at the paper towel dispenser, and try not to touch any door handles when you exit the restroom. It's possible to pick up germs from the door lock, toilet flusher, or other surfaces, then touch your eyes or mouth without realizing it—ultimately depositing those germs right into your system.

Finally, if you're wondering why you've been squatting or putting toilet paper on the seat this whole time, it's a normal consideration for public restrooms. "It can make us feel better mentally," Dr. Greves said. "It might not protect us from an infection, but it can protect us from worrying about what germs we might have sat on."

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