Health: true or false?

Can you catch something just from sitting on a toilet seat?

Yes, disease-causing bacteria do collect on toilet seats, but only for a short time, and besides, the human skin is a good barrier to infection. So just wash your hands and breathe easy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 11:24pm

Can you get an infection from sitting on a public toilet seat?

The straight answer: No

The facts: many of us are paranoid when using public toilets. Some squat rather than sit on the seat, or disinfect the toilet seat before use, all to avoid catching something.

Toilet seats are a hotbed for bacteria and viruses; there is no question about it. According to Dr Ben Lam, resident physician at Raffles Medical Hong Kong, streptococcus and staphylococcus are two kinds of bacteria that can be found on toilet seats. The first can cause throat infection and impetigo, a skin infection that usually affects children. The second can cause skin infections including boils, impetigo and cellulitis, which appears as a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender.

Other kinds of bacteria commonly found on toilet seats include E coli and shigella, which Lam says can cause food poisoning. Viruses such as common cold viruses, the hepatitis A virus, and various sexually transmitted organisms can be found on toilet seats as well.

Fortunately for us, many of these micro-organisms only survive on the surface of a toilet seat for a very short period of time. In addition, our skin, and our urethral and genital tract mucosa are good barriers, preventing bacteria and viruses from entering our body. The risk, therefore, of these organisms being transferred from the toilet seat and making us ill is minimal, Lam adds. The presence of a wound on the skin may increase one's risk of contracting a disease, but only slightly.

Still, when using any toilet, it is important to adopt good personal hygiene habits to prevent getting sick. Besides washing your hands thoroughly with soap and drying them after using the toilet, remember to close the toilet seat lid before flushing to stop bacteria being sprayed into the air and onto your body.

You may also wish to use toilet seat paper liners, although not all medical experts agree that this is helpful, since infections are not transmitted via the toilet seat.

Interestingly, while washing one's hands with soap is considered the most effective method of preventing infections after using the loo, most people don't bother with this all-important task. A Michigan State University study, published in 2013, found that 95 per cent of people do not wash their hands properly - or even with soap - after being in the bathroom. Ideally, hands should be washed for 15 to 20 seconds to destroy infectious germs.