Can You Get Herpes From a Toilet Seat?

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 29, 2022

Sexually transmitted infections are becoming increasingly more common.

Some people worry that sitting on a toilet seat that has been used by someone with herpes or other STIs could lead to contracting the infection.

This article explores different types of herpes and answers the question of what (if any) STIs you can be at risk of getting from contaminated bathroom surfaces.

What is Herpes?

Herpes simplex is a common virus that impacts around 3.7 billion people across the world.

It is highly contagious and is spread through direct contact with herpes blisters or from the saliva of an infected person.

Herpes simplex has two strains:

HSV-1 or Oral Herpes

HSV-1 causes oral herpes and may be transmitted via both sexual and non-sexual contact.

This is the most common type of herpes.

Some people who have HSV-1 may never show signs or have an outbreak.

Others may have an initial outbreak, but never have another one.

Around 30% of people with HSV-1 will have recurrent outbreaks, and 40% of those people may have multiple outbreaks per year.

More than half of all American adults have been exposed to HSV-1 and have the potential to experience an oral herpes outbreak.

Symptoms of oral herpes include:

  • Painful cold sores in or around the mouth or nose
  • Tingling, itching, or numbness 1-3 days before sore outbreaks
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Body aches

HSV-2 or Genital Herpes

HSV-2 causes genital herpes and is transmitted via sexual contact.

It is the second most common type of herpes virus.

It is also possible to have HSV-2 and never experience an outbreak.

After initial exposure, a first outbreak may happen 2-12 days later.

More than 11% of Americans between the ages of 14-49 have HSV-2.

Primary symptoms include:

  • Sores, blisters, or lesions in or around the genitals, anus, or inner thighs
  • Tingling, itching, or numbness 1-3 days before sore outbreaks
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Body aches
  • Headaches

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How Can You Catch Herpes?

Herpes simplex virus is highly contagious.

It may be spread by direct contact with sores or from the saliva of an infected person.

The virus may also be shed from other body fluids such as during sexual contact.

You cannot catch herpes from:

Oral herpes (HSV-1) transmits more easily than genital herpes.

Many people who have this type likely contracted it in childhood from a parent or adult relative.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48% of the U.S. population have HSV-1 while around 12% have HSV-2.

How is Herpes Transmitted Non-Sexually and Sexually?

Both types of herpes simplex can be spread by:

  • Kissing
  • Oral sex
  • Shared object that have direct contact with fluid from sores (razors, lip balm, cosmetic products)

HSV-1 and HSV-2 can also be passed from a pregnant person to their infant during delivery, though this is not as common.

People who are contagious with HSV-1 or HSV-2 do not always show symptoms but may still be able to spread the virus.

People are most able to transmit the herpes virus for a few days before an outbreak and while sores are present.

Some people may be more at risk of experiencing herpes outbreaks, or may be more likely to get the virus.

Factors that can increase the risk include:

  • Compromised immune system
  • Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
  • Eczema
  • Anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants

Potential Risk of Toilet Seats and Other Utensils

You cannot get the herpes simplex virus from toilet seats.

It is highly unlikely to get it from shared drinks or utensils, although it is a good idea to avoid sharing items with someone who has an active herpes outbreak.

It is possible to get some types of STDs from toilet seats.

These include trichomoniasis, which is a parasitic infection, or pubic lice (crabs).

However, toilet seats are not the ideal way these infections are transmitted.

Sharing utensils or cups can increase the risk of any type of viral infection, like a cold or the flu.

Other viruses can be spread via saliva contact, but it is less likely that this happens via transfer from a utensil unless it is immediately used.

Most herpes viruses do not survive long outside the body or on hard surfaces like silverware or glassware.

Still, to minimize any infection transmission, it is a good idea to practice proper hygiene and avoid sharing items with people who have active infections or who you do not know well.

How to Protect Yourself in the Bathroom

Bathrooms can represent the potential for plenty of bacterial transfer, although it’s easy to protect yourself in the bathroom with some simple hygiene precautions:

  • Use a toilet seat cover
  • Make sure the toilet paper roll is dry and clean
  • Don’t place your belongings on the floor
  • Use your foot to flush the toilet
  • Immediately leave the stall after flushing
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet
  • Use a paper towel to open the door handle to exit the bathroom

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does herpes live on a toilet seat?
Herpes lives on surfaces for anywhere from a few hours to 7 days. But herpes is not spread via urine or fecal matter. If it is going to be contracted from a non-human interaction, the most likely transmission is sharing a cup, razor, or other item that has direct contact with cold sores or herpes blisters and is used immediately by someone else.
Can you catch herpes from urine on a toilet seat?
No, herpes simplex is not spread by urine or fecal matter.
Can you get herpes from surfaces?
The main way that herpes spreads is by direct contact with an infected person either through touching a cold sore or herpes blister or by kissing them or otherwise coming into contact with their saliva. Less commonly, you may be able to be exposed to herpes simplex virus by sharing a cup, razor, utensil, lip balm, or other inanimate object that has had direct contact with the fluid from a herpes blister and is used immediately afterward.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.