Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, affecting an estimated 267 million women and 150 million men worldwide, or approximately 11% of all people aged 15 to 49. Like oral herpes, genital herpes is highly contagious. Since many people never experience any symptoms from the virus, it’s easy for genital herpes to pass silently from one person to another through sexual contact, often without the first person ever knowing that they’re infected. However, one of the most common myths about getting genital herpes is, "Can you get herpes from a toilet seat?"
We're going to answer that, as well as discuss some of the more common ways HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be transmitted. Unfortunately, there are several ways to catch herpes. Fortunately, sitting on a toilet seat generally isn't one of them.
How is Herpes Transmitted Non-Sexually and Sexually?
Like most STD myths, the "catching herpes from a toilet seat" myth is just that—a myth.
Herpes is transmitted through direct oral or sexual contact with an infected person. The most obvious way is by making direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has herpes lesions on their mouth or genitals. However, even those who don't exhibit symptoms of the virus still put others at risk of infection by way of shedding. While the odds of herpes transmission via shedding are drastically less likely than through direct skin-to-skin contact with an open lesion, it doesn't mean it's not impossible.
However, transmitting herpes through things like toilet seats, towels, tooth brushes, eating utensils or drinking glasses—or any other surface that comes into contact with the buttocks or genitals—is even less likely.
In fact, although herpes can live, multiply or lay dormant within the human body for years, the virus dies quickly when exposed to air. On average, the herpes virus dies within 10 seconds of coming into contact with a non-human surface such as a toilet seat, countertop or chair.
This makes it extremely unlikely that you could ever become infected with genital herpes via a toilet seat, jacuzzi, public swimming pool or other environment. It’s also extremely unlikely that you could become infected with herpes by using a public drinking fountain or hand dryer.
Potential Risks of Toilet Seats and Other Utensils
Despite this, it’s still important to make sure shared items that come into contact with your skin are clean before you use them. While toilet seats, shared towels and other items aren’t likely to give you herpes, they can still carry potentially harmful bacteria.
And, even though it's extremely rare and highly unlikely, it's still technically possible to become exposed to the herpes virus through ways other than skin-to-skin contact. The key word here is "unlikely," not "impossible."
In short, there’s very little need to worry about accidentally catching herpes while going about your normal life. Most ways to catch herpes includes either direct sexual contact (in the case of genital herpes) or through normal human contact (in the case of oral herpes).
If you’re worried about herpes transmission, our HSV-1 vs. HSV-2 guide goes into more detail about how HSV-1 and HSV-2 can spread from person to person, offers advice on testing if you think you've been exposed to the virus, and goes through the treatment options available to you. Of course, it's always best for you to seek advice from your primary care physician, who can prescribe antiviral medication like valacyclovir.