There’s a reason so many people either hover above a public toilet seat to tinkle, or wipe the seat down with tissue. There’s a reason there are toilet seat covers in public restrooms- people don’t like to use a toilet after strangers, and are afraid of “catching” something. But what can you really realistically catch from using a public toilet seat? Are we just paranoid, or is there actually a genuine fear out there?
“To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!” claims Abigail Salyers, PhD, president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The reason for this, according to Webmd.com, is because viruses and bacteria, including the common cold and STDs, only survive for a small amount of time on the toilet seat itself. In order to become infected, the virus would have to immediately be directed into your urethra or genital tract, or gain access to your body via a cut or open sore on your buttocks or thighs touching the toilet, so the possibility of contracting an STD from a toilet seat is very rare.
Basically, if you have a healthy immune system and perform proper hygiene, even more easily attainable germs, like Hepatitis A and the common cold, should be hard to contract from a toilet seat. The bacteria and viruses simply don’t just linger around the toilet for a very long time. “Even if you come into contact with particular viruses or bacteria, you’d have to contract them in amounts large enough to make you sick,” claims Judy Daly, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The common cold virus, like most viruses, dies rapidly outside the body so unless you’re in direct contact with the individual squatting on the seat before you and thoroughly exposing yourself to any viruses or bacteria they are actively carrying, acquiring a virus from a toilet seat is very slim. Likewise, according to the American Social Health Association, it is very rare to get crabs from a toilet seat as well, although crabs and scabies can live outside the human body for 24 hours.
In fact, according to a study done by the University of Arizona, the sink in the public restroom is the bacterial breeding ground everyone should watch out for. Moist areas give ample comfortable living space for germs and bacteria, and in a study done by ASM’s Clean Hands Campaign it was found that while 95% of people claim to wash their hands after using the restroom, only 67% actually do (ew).
To best protect yourself, it is suggested that you flush your toilet with your foot rather than your hand, use a paper towel to turn on and off the faucet, avoid getting too close to air vents in hand dryers to stay away from any contamination, and use a paper towel to open the bathroom door when you leave. If you have a healthy immune system to begin with, you should be OK, but overall you can’t take too many precautions. But rest assured, the likelihood of attaining something from a toilet seat is a very rare occurrence. It’s the rest of the bathroom you need to be careful about.