Recently in the news, there was a noted “rash” of toilet seat rashes caused from contact with harsh cleaning chemicals that rubbed against the bottoms and thighs of toddlers. While these skin eruptions were caused by direct irritation, it reminds me of why so many women, including myself, never sit on a public toilet seat hoping to avoid contact with whatever may be brewing there. Can you really catch an infection from sitting on a toilet seat or would it actually be safe to sit down?
Public restrooms are harbingers of many different types of bacteria but fortunately the majority of them can only survive for a short time on a toilet seat. So while some people are concerned they could acquire an STD such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, the only way those bacteria could enter their body and cause an infection was if a sore or a cut came in contact with the live bacteria or if the bacteria were able to come in direct contact with their urethra or genital tract. According to Abigail Salyers, PhD, president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) as reported to webmd.com, "To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat -- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!"
One area of germ contamination we rarely think about is what happens when you flush the toilet. Germs from feces that have entered the water are aerosolized up into the air from the action of the water flowing down. My family and I watched an impressive demonstration of this on the television show MythBusters and we have all since started closing the lid of the toilet before flushing. Those bacteria-laden particles rise quite a distance from the toilet and have nowhere else to travel but to the other surfaces in your bathroom. If you are in a public toilet, it is best to leave the stall as soon as you flush to avoid exposure.
Speaking about flushing, the handle of the toilet is also a prime target for bacteria to congregate. It is recommended in a public toilet to use your foot to flush avoiding one place to pick up some germs.