Can You Get HIV from a Toilet Seat?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

One myth that has been busted is that HIV can be transmitted through blood or urine on a toilet seat. This is false, and this article explains why.

The science

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is spread primarily through some bodily fluids. The virus must directly enter your bloodstream for infection to occur. Though transmission can occur in several ways, a toilet seat is not one of them.

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Though HIV can live in a body, it doesn’t survive long in the air or on hard surfaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV becomes nearly 100 percent inactive within hours once outside of a body.

To contract HIV from a toilet seat, you’d have to have an open wound or exposed mucous membrane in which the bodily fluid on the seat could enter your body. Mucous membranes can be found in the genitals, rectum, and mouth.

Typical cleaning methods, which are used even in healthcare settings, are recommended to remove the virus from hard surfaces — not special sterilization techniques.

How HIV is transmitted

HIV can be transmitted through a number of bodily fluids, including:

  • blood
  • semen
  • pre-ejaculate (or pre-cum)
  • rectal fluids
  • vaginal secretions
  • breast milk
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Still, even if the virus is in these fluids, it doesn’t mean transmission is guaranteed. The fluids have to enter your bloodstream, either through injection or contact with an open area or mucous membrane.

How HIV is most commonly transmitted

Because only some fluids contain the virus, it can enter the body only under specific conditions. HIV is most often spread by:

  • sharing needles or injection drug equipment
  • sexual contact
  • from parent to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding/chestfeeding
Rare ways HIV is transmitted

Activities that seldom, but can, lead to HIV transmission include:

  • oral sex
  • workplace exposure, such as a needle stick
  • unsterile medical equipment
  • pre-chewed food
  • deep, open-mouth kissing
  • biting that breaks the skin
  • tattoos or piercings performed with unsterile equipment
How HIV is not transmitted

There are many myths about HIV transmission, like you can get it from a toilet seat. HIV is not transmitted by:

  • insect bites
  • tears, saliva, or sweat
  • hugging
  • touching
  • shaking hands
  • sharing items like toilets or dishes
  • closed-mouth or social kissing
  • sexual contact without the exchange of bodily fluids

How to protect yourself and others

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There are a number of methods that reduce the risk of contracting HIV:

  • use condoms or other forms of barrier protection during sexual contact
  • never sharing needles for injectable drugs or medications
  • get tested regularly for HIV and other STIs

If a person is living with HIV, consider the above precautions and take additional measures. Following an antiretroviral medication regimen can reduce viral load and reduce the likelihood of transmission to others.

Another way to reduce the spread of HIV is by taking pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) medications. Also, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be used to prevent HIV infection if someone is exposed to the virus.

The bottom line

Medical advances have helped to greatly improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. However, there is still a stigma about HIV and how it is transmitted.

There are some behaviors that can increase your chances of contracting HIV — like sex without a condom or sharing needles. However, it’s important to remember that you can’t get the virus by simply coming into contact with something that an HIV-positive individual has touched — or sat on — as in the case of a toilet seat.

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