Oral herpes, or cold sores, is an extremely common virus. According to survey data from the World Health Organization, about two in every three people under the age of 50 are infected with the most common HSV-1 form of the virus. Herpes spreads from person to person in a variety of ways.
Most of the time, it spreads through kissing and other oral contact. As genital herpes, it can spread through sexual activity, from oral sex to regular sexual intercourse. But there are a lot of rumors about HSB-1 transmission on the internet, one of the most prevalent being that you can catch herpes from sharing a drink.
Like most myths about STDs, this one is part true, part false. While it’s technically possible for you to catch herpes by sharing a drink, the fact is it’s highly unlikely for the virus to spread this way.
HSV-1 and HSV-2, the two most common forms of the herpes virus, multiply quickly once they infect a new host. However, outside the body, the herpes virus is quite fragile and can’t live for very long on its own.
As we discussed in our guide to whether or not you can catch herpes from a toilet seat, it only takes about 10 seconds for the herpes virus to die once it’s exposed to normal air.
This means that there’s only a short window in which you can potentially catch herpes through shared glasses, utensils, toothbrushes and other items that come into direct oral contact with an infected person.
Once the virus dies, there’s no risk of you being infected, even if you share a drink or food with someone that has herpes. For the virus to transfer, you would need to take a drink from a glass or straw within a few seconds of the infected person touching it to their lips.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe to share drinks, eating utensils, toothbrushes and food with other people. Sharing items that touch your lips and mouth can spread bacteria and a wide range of non-herpes viruses, giving you a higher risk of becoming sick.
There’s also still a small risk of contracting oral herpes from a glass or straw, should you use it very soon after an infected person. If their saliva remains on the rim of the glass, it can give the herpes virus a safe place in which to live for longer than 10 seconds.
So, can you catch a cold sore from sharing a drink?
In short, yes. Your risk of catching herpes from a drink, eating utensils or a toothbrush is extremely low. It’s far more likely for you to catch the virus through kissing or sex. However, for hygiene reasons, it’s still best to avoid sharing drinks, eating utensils and any other items that directly touch your lips.
If you think you've come in contact with the herpes virus, see a physician immediately about getting tested. If you do have HSV-1 or HSV-2, your doctor will prescribe antiviral medications like valacyclovir.