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It’s a common rumor that you can get herpes from a toilet seat. But rest assured, it’s extremely unlikely. That said, there are other infections you can pick up from a bathroom.
Read on to learn how herpes is transmitted––and how to protect yourself from germs that are most likely to spread in a bathroom.
Can you get herpes from a toilet seat?
The short answer is no: it’s highly unlikely that you would get herpes from a toilet seat. Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), meaning it’s only passed through direct sexual or oral contact. You can get herpes in several ways––like from kissing or contact with an open herpes sore––but a toilet seat is not one.
Even if someone with herpes sat directly on a toilet seat and some fluids from their genitals were left behind, the half-life of herpes is very short (meaning it doesn’t survive long outside of the body) (CDC, 2022).
How do you get herpes?
Herpes is very common—the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over half the global population has either HSV-1 or HSV-2 (WHO, 2022). It’s easily passed between people, especially because many individuals experience mild herpes symptoms or none at all.
You can get different types of herpes from two viruses: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Genital herpes results from HSV-1 or HSV-2. This type is sexually transmitted, meaning it’s passed through body fluids during direct sexual activity (WHO, 2022).
Oral herpes, which appears as sores around the lips and mouth (cold sores), is usually caused by HSV-1. You can get this type through oral sex or by sharing saliva with an infected person through kissing or non-sexual contact (like sharing utensils). Many people get HSV-1 during childhood and never realize it (CDC, 2022).
Be aware that herpes can still spread even if the person with it doesn’t show any symptoms. This is because your skin can still “shed” the virus, even without a cold sore being present.
What can you catch from a toilet seat?
While it’s very unlikely that you’d get a herpes infection from a toilet seat, bathrooms house plenty of other things that can make you sick (Boone, 2005; Vardoulakis, 2022).
Is there a cure for herpes?
You’ve probably heard of germs like Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus. These bacteria and viruses cause gastrointestinal infections that result in vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. These infections are spread via the fecal-oral route, meaning that fecal particles from an infected person can make someone else sick.
Say you’re sick and forget to wash your hands after using the bathroom. Whatever infection you have can then easily spread to the next person from a public toilet surface, sink, or doorknob that you touch. Influenza and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are two more pathogens that are easily transmitted through bathroom surfaces.
Hygiene tips in public bathrooms
The good news is that even though bathrooms harbor germs that make you sick, these simple hygiene tips can help protect you:
- Practice good handwashing—this is your best defense against germs
- Fully dry your hands after washing
- Use your wrist or elbow to touch surfaces (like the door) after handwashing
- Use your foot to flush the toilet handle, not your hand
- Use a seat liner or antiseptic wipes on the toilet seat
By practicing proper hygiene in public restrooms, you can rest easy knowing you’re greatly reducing your chances of picking up an unwanted passenger.
- Barker, J. & Bloomfield, S. F. (2000). Survival of Salmonella in bathrooms and toilets in domestic homes following salmonellosis. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 89(1), 137-144. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2672.2000.01091.x. Retrieved from
- Boone, S. A. & Gerba, C. P. (2005). The occurrence of influenza A virus on household and day care center fomites. Journal of Infection, 51(2), 103-109. doi:10.1016/j.jinf.2004.09.011. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0163445304002336
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022). Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
- Giannini, M. A., Nance, D., & McCullers, J. A. (2009). Are toilet seats a vector for transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus? American Journal of Infection Control, 37(6), 505–506. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2008.11.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2965062/#:~:text=In%20summary%2C%20MRSA%20can%20be,potential%20reservoir%20for%20community%20acquisition
- Vardoulakis, S., Espinoza Oyarce, D. A., & Donner, E. (2022). Transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in public washrooms: A systematic review. The Science of the Total Environment, 803, 149932. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.149932. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8390098/
- World Health Organization (WHO). (2022). Herpes simplex virus. WHO Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.