[Question #1276] HSV anxiety

47 months ago
Thanks in advance for the help.  About 8-9 months agoI had an incident where with no lesion, a doc at a walk-in clinic (no std focused doc) told me that there was a chance I was developing a cold sore, had me blood tested for HSV1 and HSV2 and prescribed me a dose of Valtrex. The initial blood work was negative for both HSV1 & 2. As were tests a 2m and 4m out. I've been in a monogamous relationship for a year.

Since this incident however, I've had increasing anxiety in regards to fear of contraction of HSV via non-sexual methods. Part of this I believe is do to a lack of understanding on my end of the disease based on what I was told from the doctor at the walk in clinic (generalist, not std focused doctor), and another part is a general anxiety problem which I'm starting therapy for next week.

Given the above, a few anxiety driven Qs

1. How long can the virus live outside the body? My question relates to whether there should be any concern if I shake someone's hand with an active sore or touch a door handle after someone with an active sore, and then absentmindedly itch myself around the lip line?
2. Certain places on the internet say that the virus can be transmitted via items such as silverware or drinking cups, whereas others say you'd need direct physical contact with rubbing of sorts to transmit. Can you provide some clarity here?
3. How low is the likelihood of contracting HSV on a finger or hand?
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
47 months ago
Hi John,
That's a great question, and the answer to how long the virus can live off the body is different than how long can the virus live off the body AND be in good enough shape and in adequate numbers to infect a person.  If you swab a countertop ,let's say, with a bunch of virus, you can likely come back in an hour and find a few particles of virus alive, but certainly not in large enough quantities or in good enough condition to infect the cells of a person.  The answer to the question you ask about shaking hands or doorknob transmission is an absolute NO!
2.  There are no known cases of herpes virus being transmitted via inanimate objects like silverware or drinking glasses.  I do, however, caution people about sharing lipsticks or lip gloss with people who have cold sores as the lipstick is moist and if the contact is immediate, that MAY be a risk, it's unclear.  Obviously, sex toys used during sexual activity between an infected person and an uninfected person could present some very low risk.
3.  Herpes on a hand is called herpetic whitlow.  If you have direct contact with the virus, usually on one's self vs someone else, it is possible, during a new infection, with a break in the hand skin, to infect the hand.  We also see some transmission of herpes rarely in wrestlers, who grind the virus into each other or into a mat and then into each other.  Thanks is called gladitorium.  If you aren't wrestling, you don't need to worry about that one!

In all but the most exceptional cases, which I have listed above, herpes is either an infection spread by direct oral to oral contact, oral to genital contact or genital to genital contact. 
Please let me know if you have other questions.

Terri
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47 months ago
Hi Terri,
Thank you for the prompt reply. Just have two follow up comments/questions that I presume the answers will be no given your above response:

1. Given what you said above, then I'd be a virtually no real world risk of contracting the virus if I had touched a paper towel used by someone with HSV six to eight hours prior, and then absentmindedly applied moisturizer cream to my face and around the mouth?
2. If a stranger with a visible mouth lesion were to accidentally touch the top of say a water bottle (perhaps a cashier at a store) at checkout, should I be concerned about drinking from it immediately?

Thank you for the help this has been extremely helpful and I appreciate you taking the time to help out my mind at ease.
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
47 months ago
1.  Correct, no risk for the situation that you describe at all.
2.  If a stranger with a mouth lesion touched the top of a water bottle with their hand, absolutely no risk to you, correct.
I'm so glad to be able to put your mind at rest!

Terri
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47 months ago
Hi Terri, thank you for the help recently. One last scenario (which I think I can guess the answer of) and we can consider this thread closed.

In an instance where I'm taking pills/vitamins etc and haven't recently washed my hands after touching say an elevator button, communal door handle, etc, is there any HSV transmission risk if my hand/fingers make contact with my lips/lip line?

Thanks for the help. I realize many of the situations have been a bit far fetched but it has helped my anxiety significantly. Feel free to have the thread marked closed following your response, and thanks again
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
47 months ago
You are not alone in your worries and questions about herpes transmission.  The situation that you describe presents no risk for the acquisition of herpes to your hands, fingers and lips 

Terri
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