A common fear among those who use public toilets (or even share toilets with friends and/or family) is that they could contract herpes. Perhaps you’ve gone out of your way to avoid using public toilets for fear of getting genital herpes (HSV-2). Since some sources estimate that upwards of 1 out of 5 individuals in the United States have herpes – there’s a good chance that one of them could have used a public toilet.
They may have sat down during an outbreak and used the same toilet seat that you are about to use. It’s no wonder that many people proceed with caution when using public restrooms. After all, they are often gross enough without even contemplating the number of people with sexually transmitted diseases who may have used them before you.
As grossed out as you may be at the thought of using a toilet seat after someone with herpes has used it, you won’t get herpes from your usage. Herpes is spread from skin-to-skin contact, not skin-to-toilet contact. In other words, someone who is infected cannot “infect the toilet seat” and in turn have the toilet seat infect you. If that were the case, nobody would be using public toilets.
Can you get herpes from a toilet seat?
Let’s first consider how an individual gets infected with herpes. In the majority of individuals, herpes enters the body via mucous membranes – tissue that secretes mucus and lines many body cavities. Mucous membranes are located primarily in your mouth, your genital region, or anus.
For herpes to be transmitted, you must come in direct skin-to-skin contact with another individual who is infected. The genital herpes virus essentially dies when exposed to air and is considered delicate. There have been no proven cases of genital herpes contractions from a toilet seat, and most professionals regard this as being a near medical impossibility.
Those who claim to have contracted genital herpes from a toilet seat have really contracted the virus from another person. If symptoms emerge after using a public toilet, it’s more likely that the virus had been lying dormant from a previous sexual encounter. The virus dies rapidly outside the body, and as a result, you won’t be catching it from a toilet seat.
How to Minimize Chances of Getting Herpes from A Toilet Seat
If you are still concerned about getting herpes from a toilet seat, there are some things you can do to minimize your risk. The most obvious thing you can do is to simply avoid public restrooms and wait to use a private bathroom in the comfort of your own home. However, avoidance really isn’t necessary.
- Avoid public toilets: The easiest way to eliminate the potential risk of getting herpes from a toilet seat is to avoid using public toilets. If you can find a private toilet (of a friend or family member) that you know wouldn’t have been exposed to herpes, this would be ideal. That said, those who avoid public toilets for fear of herpes are taking unnecessary precaution.
- Avoid skin-to-toilet contact: The next logical thing to minimize your risk is to simply avoid skin-to-toilet seat contact. This means you could squat above the toilet rather than sitting comfortably on the actual seat. Though this is an uncomfortable way to use the restroom, it can save yourself any potential anxiety associated with contracting herpes.
- Clean the seat: Perhaps the smartest thing to do before using a toilet seat is to clean it. In other words, gather some soap or germ eradication gel and apply it to the seat. Wipe the seat clean with paper towel and you shouldn’t have as many germs to worry about. Even if there was any semblance of herpes on the seat prior to your cleaning efforts, the herpes should be gone.
- Create a barrier: If you don’t like cleaning the seat and/or want an additional “layer” of protection, you could create a barrier between your skin and the seat. This would completely eliminate the possibility of contracting herpes. Many public restrooms now have seat “guards” in the form of a toilet-seat shaped paper that can be used for extra sanitary precaution.
- Patch up skin wounds: Should you have a skin wound such as a cut or scrape in your genital area, you may want to patch them up. The herpes virus (and other infections) have an easier time penetrating skin when it has been punctured. By patching up any genital skin wounds, you further reduce your risk of getting herpes from a public restroom.
Are you afraid of getting herpes from a toilet seat?
If you are afraid of contracting herpes from using a toilet seat, what have you done to manage this fear? Do you simply avoid using the toilet seat? Have you tried things like cleaning the seat and/or using a barrier between your skin and the actual seat?
The bottom line is that many people are fearful of getting herpes from using a public toilet, but in most cases – herpes requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission. The likelihood of you contracting genital herpes (HSV-2) from using a public toilet seat is minimal. In fact, some experts would say that it is nearly impossible.
Even if someone with herpes used a toilet before you and had an outbreak, you still would be unlikely to contract it. The virus cannot usually stay alive unless transmitted from skin-to-skin contact. So, unless you are using a toilet seat simultaneously with a herpes-infected individual, you won’t get herpes.
That said, there will always be a subset of the population blatantly perpetuating this comical rumor. Some will even suggest that they contracted herpes from using a public bathroom (e.g. at a bar), when in reality, they likely contracted herpes from skin-to-skin contact with another person. Share a comment mentioning whether you’ve heard someone imply that they’ve contracted herpes from a public restroom or warn against using a public toilet for fear of herpes.
(Thankfully Rochester School of Medicine is planning a vaccine)