5 Germs You Really Can Get From a Toilet

Influenza (and the Common Cold)
Ah, influenza -- that old chestnut. While it can live on toilet seats, it can also live on almost any other surface you touch. The bathroom needn’t be the scapegoat. © Fuse/Thinkstock

Influenza and other viruses can live for as many as two or three days on nonporous surfaces, including your phone, the remote control and (no surprise) the toilet seat -- and some of these viral strains may live even longer. Bird flu, for example, can live for weeks, just waiting for you to have a seat [source: Wood, et al]. The common cold, on the other hand (or would that be the other cheek?), isn't that much of a threat. You could still catch a cold from the toilet seat, but rhinovirus usually survives less than a day on hard surfaces [source: Winther].

The trick with the cold and flu is not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth after you've touched the toilet seat (or a doorknob, or your office keyboard, etc.). It's easily transmitted through mucous membranes. We shouldn't have to remind you, but always wash your hands after using the bathroom.

Author's Note: 5 Diseases You Really Can Get From a Toilet

It's undeniably gross when you discover the person who visited the public bathroom before you had, ahem, bad aim, but the seat isn't the filthiest thing about a toilet. Actually, that's probably the flusher. Think about it; how often do you flush with your foot instead of your hand? Right.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • ABC News. "Myth: Toilet Seats Are the Dirtiest Thing in the Bathroom." October 14, 2005. (May 15, 2014) http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Health/story?id=1213831
  • Borchgrevink, Carl P.; Cha, Jae Min; and Sung Hyun Kim. "Eww! Only 5 percent of us wash hands correctly." Michigan State University School of Hospitality Business. June 10, 2013. (May 15, 2014) http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-06/msu-eo5061013.php
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. "Shigellosis: General Information." May 14, 2013. (May 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/shigellosis/
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Necrotizing Fasciitis: A Rare Disease, Especially for the Healthy." June 28, 2013. (May 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/features/necrotizingfasciitis/
  • Cocoon. "Determining the Effectiveness of Antimicrobial, Antibacterial, Antifungal Protection in Cocoon Bioshield Membrane." (May 15, 2014) http://www.cocoon.net.au/Cocoon%20Biodefence.pdf
  • Cohen, Hiyaguha. "Dangers In The Bathroom." Baseline of Health Foundation. Oct. 27, 2012. (May 15, 2014) http://jonbarron.org/article/dangers-bathroom#.U3KmFvldVbw
  • Dugdale, David C. "Avian Influenza." The New York Times. Feb. 4, 2013. (May 15, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/avian-influenza/overview.html
  • East Cambridgeshire District Council. "Your Questions Answered: Shigella." (May 15, 2014) http://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Shigella.pdf
  • Fox, Maggie. "Swine Flu Deaths Show This Flu Is Difference--Experts." Clinical infectious Diseases. Vol. 49, no. 10. Pages i-ii. Sept. 15, 2009. (May 15, 2014) http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/10/i.full
  • Giannini, Mary Anne; Nance, Donna; and Jonathan A. McCullers. "Are toilet seats a vector for transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus?" American Journal of Infection Control. Vol. 37, no. 6. Pages 505-506. August 2009. (May 15, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2965062/
  • Hygiene Council. (May 15, 2014) http://www.hygienecouncil.org/explore/hygiene-hotspots-home.aspx
  • Litchfield District Council - Health Protection Team. "'Bugs' Information Leaflet On: Dysentery (Shigella)." October 2002. (May 15, 2014). http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/360/dysentery-bugs0leaflet.pdf
  • Mayo Clinic. "E. coli." July 28, 2011. (May 15, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/e-coli/basics/definition/con-20032105
  • Paediatrics & Child Health."Invasive strep infections and 'the flesh-eating disease'." Vol. 4, no. 1. Pages 77-78. Jan-Feb. 1999. (May 15, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828232/
  • Perl, Trish M.; and Cynthia L. Sears. "Gastrointestinal Flu: Norovirus in health Care and Long-term Care Facilities." Clinical Infectious Diseases. Vol. 47, no. 9. Pages 1202-1208. 2008. (May 15, 2014) http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/47/9/1202.long
  • Pritchard, Charlotte. "Is the toilet seat really the dirtiest place in the home?" BBC News. Nov. 16, 2012. (May 15, 2014) http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20324304
  • Roufos, Anna. "Germ and Bacteria Hot-Spots: 12 Things You Should Know." Fitness. January 2006. (May 15, 2014) http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/fitness/printableStory.jsp?storyid=/templatedata/fitness/story/data/1135881081453.xml
  • Shaw, Gina. "Bathroom Germs You Really Can Catch." WebMD. Nov. 16, 2011. (May 15, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/parenting/d2n-stopping-germs-12/bathroom-germs
  • Shoemaker, Dawn. "Who Is Really At Risk In Public Restrooms?" Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online. Oct. 4, 2013 (May 15, 2014) http://www.cmmonline.com/articles/231958-who-is-really-at-risk-in-public-restrooms
  • WebMD. "What Can You Catch in Restrooms?" (May 15, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/what-can-you-catch-in-restrooms
  • Winther, B; McCue, K; Ashe, K; Rubino, JR; and JO Hendley. "Environmental contamination with rhinovirus and transfer to fingers of healthy individuals by daily life activity." Journal of Medical Virology. October 2007. Vol. 79, no. 10. Pages 1606-1610. (May 15, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17705174?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=1
  • Wood, Joseph P., et al. "Environmental Persistence of a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Virus." Environmental Science and Technology. Sept. 3, 2010. (May 20, 2014) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es1016153


Tick- and Mosquito-borne Diseases on the Rise

Tick- and Mosquito-borne Diseases on the Rise

Vector-borne diseases are those spread by biting insects. HowStuffWorks looks at the alarming rise in infections.

More to Explore