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We all have that friend who’s a complete germaphobe. Mine refuses to touch public door handles, never goes out without a large bottle of hand sanitiser and views public toilets as her own personal hell.
When she does have to use them (and I’m talking serious emergencies only) she confesses she squats, too afraid of sitting down and catching something gross from the toilet seat “where thousands of strangers’ bums have been before”.
But are you really at risk of catching diseases from a toilet seat?
According to Professor Ross Coppel, Deputy Dean and Director of Research of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, the toilet seat is actually probably one of the safer surfaces in the bathroom — as long as it is clean and dry.
“It is difficult for bacteria to stick and survive on something clean and dry. Nevertheless you would certainly over time find various bacteria and viruses there,” he says. (Post continues after gallery.)
These include E. coli, of which there is a large amount in our intestines, and Staphyloccous (bacteria that cause staph infections) and Streptococcus species of various sorts which are commonly found on the skin.
“There have been reports of harmful bugs (pathogens) that are found in faeces such as Hepatitis A and shigella, but they are more likely to be on the taps and in the sink than on the toilet seat,” he explains.
“In a public toilet, it is the tap handles, the door handles and the continually wet surfaces that may harbour organisms. They may not be a pleasant place, but at least in a country like Australia, it is generally pretty safe.”
Can you get STIs from a public bathroom?
And if anyone has ever told you they caught an STI from a public bathroom, chances are they were not quite telling the truth.
“If someone told you that you can contract an STI from a toilet seat, their microbiology is poor,” explains Professor Coppel.
"The bugs that cause STIs are very fragile and don't survive at all well in the external environment. To contract an STI from a toilet seat, the organisms would need to enter an open cut in your skin or somehow get into your urethra or anus, something that doesn't occur in normal usage of a toilet," he says.
"However this also means that if you have an open cut on your bottom, it should be covered with a bandaid or some other dressing when using a toilet, particularly public ones, just to be on the safe side."
"Also, if someone tells you they have contracted an STI from a toilet seat, consider other more likely means of infection first before believing them," he says.