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Can I transmit herpes to my family?

Q: Can I transmit herpes to my family, children or roommates?

I was just diagnosed with Herpes today. Its still all sinking in, but overall I think I’m taking it well. Of course its just the first day so we’ll see. As a 27 yo, I’ve been one of those dudes who thought he was invincible and that I couldn’t get an STD. Anyway I have a ton of questions… most importantly, I live with my folks and don’t want to transmit Herpes to them. Any advice would be great. 


A:  You can’t transmit herpes to anyone unless they are in contact with your genitals or the place where you have outbreaks. The herpes virus is very fragile and can only be transmitted by skin-to-skin  contact when the virus is active.

You may wonder if someone can get herpes from  a toilet seat that you just sat on. However, there are no proven cases of  getting herpes from a toilet seat. According to the Mayo Clinic, “It’s very  unlikely that you would get genital herpes from a toilet seat. Most sexually  transmitted diseases (STDs) are transmitted only during sexual contact, either  by skin-to-skin contact or through exchange of bodily fluids. The microorganisms  — bacteria and viruses — that cause STDs such as genital herpes tend to be  sensitive to their surroundings and can’t survive outside the human body on a  surface like a toilet seat for very long.”

If you have HSV-1 (formerly only associated with Oral Herpes), you should know that most people (60-80%) already carry that particular strain of herpes which is usually acquired in childhood from kissing parents or relatives. Only occasionally do people have noticeable symptoms.  We now know that HSV-1 is also the leading cause of genital herpes, due to the popularity of oral sex.

Whether or not you have noticeable symptoms of an STD, you may still have an STD.  Most doctors do NOT include a blood test for herpes in their standard STD test panel. Therefore, most patients have NEVER been tested for herpes.  Please read: How to Get Tested for Herpes.

If you have HSV-2 (formerly only associated with Genital Herpes), around 25% of all adults in the US already have it, and for  most people, the symptoms are mild and infrequent and lessen over time. HSV-2 can also be transmitted via genital-oral contact, so there are now many reported cases of oral HSV-2.

Most people with herpes (either HSV-1 or HSV-2) do NOT have any noticeable symptoms.  And since most doctors do NOT include a blood test for herpes when they are testing patients for other common STDs. over 90% of people who have herpes have NEVER been tested and do NOT KNOW that they carry HSV-1 or HSV-2. 

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can potentially be transmitted to your sexual partners, even when there are NO noticeable symptoms. The HSV virus does occasionally shed asymptomatically (without symptoms) a small percent of the time – which varies for each person.  Using condoms and taking anti-virals substantially reduces the risk of spreading HSV to sexual partners.

Even though you are NOT AT RISK for spreading genital herpes to the people you live with,  good hygiene is a great idea, especially when you are having an  outbreak. Soap and water kills the virus, as well as just being exposed to the  open air. You can’t spread herpes in a swimming pool or hot tub – unless you’re  having sex with someone there. So you shouldn’t worry about your parents getting  herpes from the toilet, bathtub, sink or shower. If you want to be extra sure –  go ahead and clean up after yourself for the mental security it will give you.  But really, as long as there’s no incest going on, your parents are safe.

For more info, see our page about Reducing Your Risk of spreading herpes to others.