Most people get herpes from sexual contact, especially oral, vaginal, or anal sex. However, herpes can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and by sharing objects like eating utensils or towels with an infected person.
It is also possible to transmit herpes even if a person doesn’t have any active sores (known as asymptomatic shedding). Medicines can decrease how long symptoms last and how often they occur.
All types of herpes can be transmitted from skin to skin contact, including HSV-2 and genital herpes. However, the virus usually requires direct contact with a sore or blister to spread. This can happen during kissing, vaginal and anal sex, or manual stimulation with the fingers (like masturbation). It also happens when the herpes virus is shed in saliva, and it can spread when lip-to-lip contact occurs.
Herpes can also be passed through contaminated objects like towels, tampons or toothbrushes, shared drinking glasses and cups, or even the toilet seat. But this is very uncommon, as herpes viruses do not survive very long outside the body. It is also possible to get herpes from touching a sore or blister and then touching mucous membranes, but it’s very unlikely to spread genital herpes this way.
There are ways to reduce the risk of catching herpes from skin-to-skin contact, including using condoms and wearing gloves when wrestling or playing sports. Keeping the number of sexual partners low and using daily suppressive herpes medication can also help. A vaccine is in development, but it will not prevent herpes. It will only lessen the frequency of outbreaks and shorten the length of time the herpes virus remains in the body. This can help people with herpes live their lives more comfortably and minimize the impact on sex, work, school and relationships.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, people are asking questions about how the virus is spread. Many of these questions relate to sharing food, utensils and drink items. In a recent daily news briefing, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw suggested that Albertans limit the sharing of open foods in their homes. She also recommends not using shared utensils or cups that have been handled by someone who is symptomatic for herpes.
While it is true that herpes viruses can spread through skin-to-skin contact, it is important to remember that these viruses are also shed in the saliva of those who have herpes. Therefore, it is possible to spread herpes through kissing and sexual contact as well.
It is also important to remember that herpes can spread through sores on the lips and tongue even when there are no visible blisters present. This is known as asymptomatic shedding and is common in those with herpes type 1.
As for shared utensils, it is very unlikely that most types of STDs are transmitted through their transfer to other items. For example, trichomoniasis and pubic lice (crabs) can be spread by sitting on a toilet seat but this is not usually the most effective way for these infections to be transmitted. The exception to this is hepatitis A, which can be spread through the ingestion of fecal matter by eating food or drink that has been contaminated by an infected person’s stool.
Herpes can be spread by contact with sores, saliva, and infected body fluids. It can also be transmitted by indirect contact with objects that are contaminated by herpes, such as towels, toothbrushes, or bed linens. It’s also possible to spread herpes by direct oral contact, including kissing. Herpes can be passed from one person to another even when no sores or blisters are visible, a process known as asymptomatic herpes shedding.
Oral herpes, also called cold sores or fever blisters, are usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Most people in the United States have HSV-1 and are infected by age 20, and it’s very common for parents to pass this infection on to their children during childhood. HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes and rarely causes herpes in the mouth or face.
Herpes can also be passed to infants during childbirth, although this is extremely rare. Often, this herpes transmission is due to an active outbreak of herpes in the mother at the time of delivery. Neonatal herpes can also occur in immunocompromised babies, including those born to mothers who have advanced HIV infection. In these cases, the herpes virus can spread to the fetus and lead to neurologic disability or death. Tests to see if an infant has herpes can be performed by scraping a sample of cells from a sore and examining them under a microscope, a procedure called a Tzanck smear.
Herpes is a virus that causes cold sores and genital herpes. It can be spread through kissing and sharing utensils, but also through contact with an infected person’s saliva or sores. HSV-2 is usually passed through oral-to-genital contact and affects the genital area; however, it can be spread from skin to skin. The virus is not always detectable in the mouth or on skin, but it can show up in blisters that ooze and crust over, and it can also be present in saliva. People with herpes can have repeated outbreaks (also called recurrences) of sores and blisters over time. Medications can decrease how long symptoms last, but they don’t cure the infection.
Herpes can be spread during sexual contact even when sores are not present, but it is easier to transmit herpes from a person’s lips or tongue when they have an active sore. Consistent condom use reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of transmission. People with herpes can also have recurrent episodes of asymptomatic shedding from the genital area, but these are less likely to be transmitted.
Anyone can get herpes, but it’s more common in young women than men. This is likely because genital herpes can be more easily transferred from one woman to another during vaginal birth or sex. It’s also more common among people who have multiple sexual partners and don’t use protection, such as condoms or dental dams for oral sex.