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Old Curiosity Shop: The gonococcus and the toilet seat

The gonococcus and the toilet seat

The question being asked here is pretty obvious. Some researchers from Oregon tried to answer the question and published their results in the New England Journal in 1979 [1]. To test the hypothesis that toilet seats could serve as a reservoir for infectious agents they did two experiments. First they determined the survival of gonococci added in large quantities to toilet seats. Then they surveyed a number of `restrooms' and cultured material from the toilet seats in them.


Adding gonococcus ( N. gonorrhoeae ) to toilet seats and culturing the material added at various times up to four hours later showed the following.

  1. Gonococci in a saline suspension could not be cultured from the toilet seat 10 minutes later.
  2. Gonococci in a broth suspension could not be cultured from the toilet seat 10 minutes later.
  3. Gonococci in a suspension containing saline and urethral discharge from patients with gonorrhoea could be cultured from toilet seats up to two hours later.

The survey of 72 mens' and womens' restrooms proved negative for the culture of N. gonorrhoeae . However, a number of other pathogens could be cultured, mostly skin pathogens. The top surfaces of the toilet seats were more heavily contaminated than the bottom surfaces.


While the bacteria which cause gonorrhoea could survive for several hours in dried purulent discharge on a toilet seat, the survey failed to find any. Nonsexual transmission from toilet seats is not impossible, just very unlikely. The authors give some interesting ways in which pathogens can be transmitted.


  1. JH Gilbaugh, PC Fuchs. The gonococcus and the toilet seat. New England Journal of Medicine 1979 301: 91-3.

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