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. Before we can put this misconception to rest, we need to consider how herpes is spread as well as whether or not it can 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 contagious is herpes?
The herpes virus is quite contagious, whether exposed to genital herpes (HSV-2) or oral herpes (HSV-1). Generally, herpes infection occurs when a person comes in contact with3:
- A herpes sore
- Saliva from a person with oral herpes infection
- Genital fluids from a person with genital herpes infection
- Skin in the oral area of a person with oral herpes
- Skin in the genital area of a person with genital herpes
Genital herpes is also easily spread during unprotected sex with an infected partner, even without a visible sore or symptoms. Essentially, direct skin-to-skin contact or exposure to bodily fluids puts you at high risk of contracting herpes.
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, but 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 holding off on shared drinks or kissing for a while.
Even without sores, can you get herpes from saliva alone? The short answer is yes, the herpes virus can be transmitted from the saliva of an infected person. This is essentially how young children and babies are exposed is through non-sexual contact with saliva from getting a kiss on the face. In fact, many adults living with oral herpes today contracted it as children from infected adults. Babies are particularly vulnerable to herpes, so as adorable as they may be, resist kissing any (even your own), particularly if you are experiencing an oral breakout. Although rare, adults with oral herpes can also transmit the virus with partners through oral sex, resulting in genital herpes caused by HSV-1, so extra caution is necessary.
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).4 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!
Testing for Herpes
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to herpes, how do you go about testing for an infection? There are a few different options for testing5, and determining which test to get will be based on whether or not you are experiencing symptoms. When there are suspected sores present, you can visit your physician’s office for a physical examination. They can look at the sores, and a swab test may be performed on a blister that has not yet begun to heal.
For those who do not have symptoms but have been exposed, a blood test can determine if you have a herpes infection. If you decide to take a blood test, it’s important to wait long enough for the virus to be present in the bloodstream, which could take up to 16 weeks. Taking the test too early could result in an incorrect result, increasing the risk of spreading the virus to others.
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.
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.
Though manageable 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 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.
- 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.
- “Genital Herpes – CDC Basic Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, January 3, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm.
- “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/.
- “Genital Herpes Screening FAQ.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, July 11, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/screening.htm.