There are many myths surrounding the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and how it’s spread, but one of the more common beliefs is that you can get herpes from sharing a drink with another person. We’ll get into the details of this common STD myth in a moment. But before we put this misconception to rest, not only should we consider how herpes is spread but also if it can even survive outside the body. Remember that the thing about sexually transmitted diseases is that they are sexually transmitted.1
As is the case with most STDs and STIs, it is highly unlikely that you’ll contract the herpes virus through anything other than skin-to-skin contact with another person; and that includes sharing drinks.2
How does herpes spread?
Herpes is most commonly transmitted through kissing or sexual activity including oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex. In these situations (unlike sharing a drink, straw or cup), the virus is most likely to be transmitted–which is part of what makes safe sex practices and herpes testing so important.
But can you catch herpes from sharing a soda with a friend? It’s highly doubtful, however, caution should be taken if you have a herpes breakout. Oral herpes is especially contagious during breakouts when sores are open or moist. If you’re experiencing symptoms of HSV and have these types of sores–also known as fever blisters or cold sores–it’s important that you are extra careful not to pass them to someone else. This may involve passing on shared drinks or kissing for a while.
Keep in mind that babies are especially vulnerable to herpes. As adorable as they may be, please resist kissing any babies (including your own) if you are experiencing an oral breakout. Many adults, who are living with oral herpes today, contracted it as children from infected adults who were unfortunately not as cautious.
How long does herpes live outside the body?
As easily as the herpes virus flourishes inside the human body, it cannot live for more than a few hours outside of the body (i.e. on a straw, cup, or plastic bottle).3 The only ways HSV-1 or HSV-2 can be spread from person to person is through kissing, sexual activity and coming into direct contact with an infected area of skin or open cold sore. While it is hypothetically possible that HSV can remain active in residual saliva on the rim of a glass or straw, the chance of transmission is still very slim. So if you accidentally shared a drink with a friend or partner, you should be just fine!
Transmitting the herpes virus by sharing drinks is virtually impossible and highly unlikely. Because of the nature and fragility of the virus, sharing a straw, bottle or glass should not pose a threat to anyone’s sexual health. Despite common misconceptions, you also cannot catch herpes from a toilet seat, fork, doorknob, drinking fountain, hug, car or handshake.
Though treatable through various prescription and over-the-counter medications, herpes is just one of the few STDs that are not curable. And while you probably won’t catch it from a rogue straw or water bottle, you do need to be careful about with whom you are kissing or engaging in sexual acts. It’s always a good idea to get tested for STDs from time to time and, if appropriate, seek the consultation of a physician as far as how the condition can best be treated.
That being said, it’s still not entirely advisable to share drinks with strangers as other bacteria thrive on these surfaces. While you might not catch herpes from a shared drink, it’s still a prime way to catch a number of other diseases such as strep throat, influenza or a cold. All things considered, you may want to stick to your own drinks as a good rule of thumb.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, September 21, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/symptoms-causes/syc-20351240/.
- “Herpes simplex virus.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, May 20, 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus.
- Bardell, D. “Survival of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 on Some FREQUENTLY Touched Objects in the Home and Public Buildings.” PubMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1990. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2172749/.