Can You Get HPV From a Toilet Seat?

How HPV Is Transmitted and How to Prevent Getting It

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. Because of this, there are many myths and false information about how it spread. You cannot catch HPV from a toilet seat—at least, a toilet seat in a developed country—but the question encourages a review of some of the lesser-known facts about how the virus is transmitted.

A woman with toilet paper in her hands
Kittisak Jirasittichai / EyeEm / Getty Images

Unlike some sexually transmitted diseases, HPV doesn't require sexual contact to spread and can even be spread from mothers to babies at times.

And while the spread of the virus from an object to a person (fomite transmission) hasn't been clearly documented, studies have found evidence of HPV on ultrasound probes and towels.

This article discusses different ways that HPV can be transmitted and ways you can help avoid getting infected with HPV.

HPV and Fomite Transmission

We don't have conclusive evidence showing the transmission of HPV from a person to an object and then to another person—which is called fomite transmission—but we do have other findings that raise some concerns. Overall, most transmission is from person to person during physical contact, so the risk of being infected by HPV from a virus living on a surface is relatively small.

It's thought that fomites such as wet towels are responsible for some cases of HPV in children. In this scenario, an infected parent may transfer the virus to a towel, and, shortly after that, use the towel on their child.

The presence of HPV on objects has been demonstrated. Ultrasound probes used within the body, including probes used for a vaginal ultrasound, may become contaminated with HPV, including high-risk strains.

When this occurs, even some high-level disinfectants are inadequate to remove the virus. Fortunately, chemical methods such as sonicated hydrogen peroxide and non-chemical methods such as ultraviolet C radiation appear effective.

An older Scandinavian study looked specifically for HPV DNA on toilet seats and floors in a humid resort setting and found no evidence of the virus.

Though HPV may uncommonly be passed on via a towel or medical instrument, sharing toilet seats (at least in countries with a high level of hygiene) or swimming in a pool with an infected person appears to be safe.

Methods of Transmission

HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact from an infected partner, mostly during sexual activity. It's possible to have HPV and not realize it. You can pass HPV to another person even when you have no signs or symptoms associated with the disease.

Sexual activities that can transmit the virus include:

  • Vaginal intercourse
  • Anal intercourse
  • Oral sex
  • Touching your infected partner's genitals and then your own
  • Kissing
  • Fisting or fingering
  • Using undisinfected sex toys after an infected person
  • Genital-to-genital contact (same or opposite sex)

Non-sexual modes of transmission can include:

  • Transplacental transmission (rare): Uncommonly, HPV may travel from an infected mother up into the uterus during pregnancy. HPV DNA has been found in amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord.
  • From an infected mother to a baby during a vaginal birth (perinatal transmission): Transmission is thought to occur as the baby travels through the birth canal. It may result in papillomas in a baby's mouth, throat, or lungs.
  • Digital (hand) contact: A parent or caregiver with HPV-related warts on their hands may transfer the virus to a baby during diaper changes.
  • Auto-inoculation: A person may spread the virus from one region of their body to another by, for example, touching genital warts and then touching their mouth.

Oral HPV infection appears to be significant in the transfer of HPV among family members.

Preventing HPV Infections

HPV is linked to some cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Understanding the different ways that you may catch HPV is important to reduce your risk of infection.

HPV symptoms can sometimes develop years after exposure, making it difficult for many people to know when they contracted the infection.

HPV is the most common STI but it can also be transmitted in non-sexual ways as well. You may want to take steps to protect yourself and your family. Some ways to reduce your risk for HPV infection include:

  • Get vaccinated. Gardisil 9 is the only HPV vaccine approved in the US.
  • Be aware. Be aware that these viruses exist and that someone can be infected even if they don't have symptoms.
  • Practice safer sex. Safe-sex practices are important for reducing HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Use condoms properly. Condoms can reduce your HPV risk. Proper condom use alone reduces women's HPV risk by 70%.
  • Wash your hands. Handwashing can reduce your risk of contracting HPV or spreading it to other people or areas of your body
  • Get regular pap smears. Even asymptomatic HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer, so it's important to follow current guidelines for Pap smears (and HPV testing in some cases).

Summary

The chance of catching HPV from a toilet seat is extremely unlikely in developed countries. Even so, the virus can be transmitted in non-sexual ways, and theoretically, even from an object to a person.

Good hygiene practices can help reduce your risk of getting HPV from an object. Vaccines are very helpful in reducing your risk of getting the strains of HPV that can cause medical problems like cancer.

A Word From Verywell

HPV is the most common STI. Most of the time, it is spread through sexual activity and skin-to-skin contact. Being aware of the methods of transmission and taking precautions such as safe sex, handwashing, and getting immunized can go a long way toward lowering your risk. Treatments are available, so if you notice any genital warts or other signs of STI, be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Pichon, Lebail-Carval, Billaud, Lina, Gaucherand, Mekki. Decontamination of intravaginal probes infected by human papillomavirus (Hpv) using uv-c decontamination systemJCM. 2019;8(11):1776. doi:10.3390/jcm8111776

  6. Puranen M, Syrjänen K, Syrjänen S. Transmission of genital human papillomavirus infections is unlikely through the floor and seats of humid dwellings in countries of high-level hygieneScandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases. 1996;28(3):243-246. doi:10.3109/00365549609027165

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Originally written by Lisa Fayed