Herpes is one of the most common viruses in the world, with upwards of 67% of the world population under the age of 50 carrying it, according to the World Health Organization. This common virus causes cold sores around the lips and on the gums, with most people experiencing an outbreak once every year.
Many people who show no oral herpes symptoms are asymptomatic, meaning they’re infected with the HSV-1 virus but don’t have oral herpes sores or other visible herpes symptoms. Because of this, a very large percentage of people with HSV-1 aren’t even aware that they’re infected.
However, typical visible herpes symptoms include visible cold sores and lesions on or around the mouth, fever, tingling on the mouth or lips, headache, etc. Of course, unless you suspect you may be suffering from an initial outbreak, it's best to just keep your eyes peeled for visible lesions.
Unfortunately, it's not a myth. HSV-1, or oral herpes, is spread through direct contact, which means it is possible to become infected if you kiss a person that has the virus—even if the person you kiss isn't experiencing an outbreak.
If you’re infected with HSV-1, it’s also possible for you to infect people by kissing them. What's worse is that because an active outbreak doesn't need to be present for herpes to spread, you can infect someone at any time, even if it's just a peck on the lips. It's called "viral shedding." However, the risk of spreading the virus drastically increase
It’s important to understand that HSV-1 and HSV-2 are different types of the herpes virus. While HSV-1 is extremely common and primarily appears on and around the mouth, it can be spread to the genitals if you receive oral sex from someone with an outbreak (or give someone oral sex while you have an active outbreak).
HSV-2 (more commonly referred to as genital herpes) usually only affects the genitals and is very rare in other parts of the body.
In short, yes, you can get herpes from kissing. In fact—and unfortunately—kissing is one of the most common ways that oral herpes spreads.
It’s also possible to pick up HSV-1 from sharing a cup or utensils with someone infected with the virus, although this is extremely uncommon, as the virus can only live for about 10 seconds or so while in saliva. While some persistent myths might state otherwise, it isn’t possible to get herpes from a towel, toilet bowl, swimming pool or bathtub that other people have used, meaning there’s no need to worry about being infected if you share a home with someone that has oral herpes.
However, if you do get oral herpes, there’s also no need to panic. Remember: Oral herpes is an extremely common virus that affects a majority of the world's population. It's not pleasant or convenient, but it happens.
Luckily, it's also a virus that’s easily controllable using medications such as valacyclovir. Our Valacyclovir 101 guide covers everything you’ll need to know about this widely available, affordable and safe oral herpes medication.
In summary, oral herpes is a common condition that can easily spread from one infected person to another through kissing.
As a result, it’s best not to kiss someone if you have a cold sore. It’s also best to avoid oral sex until the cold sore heals, as even HSV-1 (the form of herpes that affects the lips and mouth) can be transferred through oral sex, potentially causing genital herpes.