Health

How Likely You Are to Get Sick From a Toilet Seat

In theory, sitting on the toilet should be a banal experience — given how often we have to go — but if you're worried about contracting fecal germs or worse whenever you go to the bathroom, this otherwise simple biological function can be very stressful.

The good news is that although a lot of gross things go into toilets, your odds of getting sick from germs on the can are “infinitesimally small,” Martin Blaser, a microbiology professor at New York University, told CityLab last year.

This might come as a surprise, as a common belief about toilets — particularly in public restrooms — is that they're grotesque, dirty, and germy enough to give you something awful, such as gastrointestinal illnesses or even sexually transmitted diseases.

Some people avoid public restrooms entirely, or if they can't, they'll squat or use paper toilet seat covers in hopes of preventing these fears from becoming a reality. In many cases, however, these precautions are unnecessary.

Can you get an STD from a toilet seat?

"It's very unlikely that you would get genital herpes from a toilet seat," James M. Steckelberg wrote on the Mayo Clinic's website. "Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) spread by skin–to–skin contact. In most cases, the virus enters your body through mucous membranes — the type of skin found in your mouth, genitals, or anus. The virus can also enter your body through skin that has tiny scrapes or tears."

The common fear that you can get an STD from a toilet seat is often associated with dishonesty in relationships, New York Times health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote in Ask Well last year.

"When confronted by an angry partner wanting to know how it is that he or she suddenly has symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, pubic lice, or any other unpleasantry, it is much easier to answer, 'I have no idea, dear — I must have gotten it from a toilet seat' than it is to tell the truth," McNeil wrote. "People almost always get those diseases the old-fashioned way — from other people."

Go Ask Alice!, a website that is run by Columbia University health promotion specialists, has cast doubt on the notion that toilet seats give people STDs such as Chlamydia.

Cat on the toilet

"[You] can get Chlamydia from John (or Sally), but not from using the john," Go Ask Alice! said. "Chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The only way Chlamydia is spread is by sexual contact — specifically, when infected fluids (vaginal fluids, semen, and/or pre-cum) come into contact with mucous membranes. Both men and women can get Chlamydia through vaginal, anal, and, less frequently, oral sex with an infected partner. Using a condom or dam during sex can reduce the risk of transmission. However, you can't get Chlamydia by sharing the same bathroom or toilet seats with someone who's infected: The bacteria can't live for long outside of the body, and it's pretty unlikely that a person could come into contact with someone else's body fluids, even in the bathroom."

The germs on your kitchen appliances vs. your toilet seat.

The cutting board in a typical home has around 200 times more fecal matter on it than the average toilet seat, according to a 2014 video on the popular YouTube page AsapSCIENCE. The dish sponge is also rife with bacteria.

"While we've all seen our fair share of dirty public toilets, the truth is, if it passes the sight test and seems OK, it's probably cleaner than most other objects in a bathroom," the video said. "Regardless, your skin is designed as an excellent barrier to microorganisms. Even though some bacteria such as E. coli can survive on a toilet seat indefinitely, if you don't have an open sore near it, or there isn't something foreign or sharp on the seat, the bacteria isn't likely to get inside your body."

In any case, microorganisms are already all over "everything in the bathroom" as a result of toilet flushing, the video said. "Simply flushing a toilet creates aerosolized bacteria, meaning that the toilet paper itself is likely contaminated," the video said.

You can watch the full AsapSCIENCE video below:

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