Genital herpes (and facial cold sores) are caught by direct skin to skin contact with the affected area with friction.
This is what the doctors say. Not from a brief touch when there are no symptoms; not from clothing or towels – because herpes simplex viruses are fragile and struggle to survive when they leave the skin. After all they don’t need to. Direct contact – kissing and sex – lasts for much longer than a few seconds and the virus never has to leave the skin at all. It goes directly from one person to another and is rubbed well in.
What kind of skin is it usually rubbed into? Lips and genital skin, called ‘mucous membrane’ – thin skin that is far less tough than most skin on the body. This is ideal for the virus. Other skin is better defended by the immune system.
More than two out of three people in the world have herpes simplex type 1 and up to one in five have type 2. They catch it from other people, not from towels.
This is why it was disappointing to learn that on February 6th, Alice Beer, a popular TV presenter told her audience that ‘herpes virus can be transferred on a warm, moist bath towel’.
It doesn’t happen, Alice. That is why expert doctors are so clear about it.
Telling people that they might catch herpes from a towel – or that they might spread it to a family member in this way, simply causes alarm and adds to the herpes stigma. It takes us a lot longer to calm people down than it takes the Alice Beers of this world to fire them up.