Although a host of germs and bacteria can be transferred from shaking hands, the likelihood of contracting the herpes simplex virus are slim. Cold sores occur due to oral contact with an HSV-1 carrier who is in the midst of an outbreak.

The herpes virus can be transferred through kissing or the sharing of saliva-contaminated objects. This is why the sharing of drinks and eating utensils is problematic. It is most likely to be troublesome if the other party has an active cold sore.

You will find out more about HSV-1 and the importance of good personal hygiene. Killing viruses, germs, and bacteria on your hands by washing regularly will help to keep you safe from infection.

Can Shaking Hands Cause the Cold Sore Virus?

Although not impossible, the odds of getting HSV-1 from a handshake is slim to none. Oral-to-oral contact is the primary cause of viral transmission. This is why cold sores are found around the lips and mouth.

For the transfer to occur, the virus has to be present, active, and a transfer location must be available.[1] You are not likely to have this type of setup during a simple handshake.

Everything originates from the mouth. Either mouth-to-mouth, mouth-to-genitals, mouth-to-beverage container, etc. Without that critical factor, it becomes tough to transfer HSV-1 in another way.

To summarize:

  • The odds of contracting the cold sore virus from a handshake is virtually impossible. While the percentage is not zero, a series of unlikely events would have to transpire before any threat would be introduced.
  • HSV-1 is primarily transferred from oral contact. The vital component of oral connection is missing.

Is It Safe to Shake Hands with a Person Who Has HSV-1?

It is safe to shake hands with a person who has HSV-1.

Remember the natural cycle of cold sore development. An individual can be contagious before a sore appears. Additionally, roughly 50-80% of the population carries HSV-1.

This is critical to note because it means there is a good chance that you have already shared a handshake with a carrier. Additionally, it is estimated that 90% of adults have been exposed to the virus by the time they turn 50.[2]

There is a big difference between exposure and transmission. Not all forms of contact will spread the herpes virus.

Why You Should Never Touch Your Mouth or Lips

You should never touch your mouth or lips following a handshake. While concerns about HSV-1 transfer are understandable, you should never neglect the threat of common germs and bacteria.

Touching your mouth and lips is not sanitary. If you shake hands with someone, you should wash them at your earliest convenience. Keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you is also a good option.

While there is a school of thought that suggests HSV-1 exposure to the hands can be transferred to the mouth, that is not likely. Highly improbable, in fact. However, it is indeed better to be safe than sorry just as a responsible practice.

In the same way that you would never shake hands and then lick your fingers, lip/mouth contact should be off limits as well. This entire exercise is one of basic protection. Just because the risk of HSV-1 transfer is minimal does not mean that it is guaranteed to be safe.

To summarize:

  • You should never touch your lips or mouth after shaking hands with someone.
  • It is essential that you wash after hand-to-hand contact. Having a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse can be helpful.
  • While concerns over HSV-1 transfer are understandable, you should never neglect other forms of germs and bacteria. Shaking hands is a friendly gesture, but it does not come without the threat of contamination. The palms of your hands can serve as a shelter for a host of bacteria.

How Long Can the Herpes Simplex Virus Live on the Skin?

While HSV-1 exposure can linger on the skin for a while, it does not for long. Although an outbreak can spread from its central location, the virus itself dies outside of the infected area in a rather short period. This is once again the difference between transmission and exposure.

For example, if you have an active cold sore on your lip, touch it, and then touch your elbow nothing is likely to transpire. Unless a new contact point features a host of abrasions, the virus will die almost instantly after touching your elbow.

It is critical to remember that cold sores develop at a specific location for a reason. The outbreak location is where viral transmission initially occurred. If the virus entered your body in the middle of your bottom lip that is where an outbreak will occur. This is why attempting to “relocate” the virus is not likely. This is also why the act of shaking hands is considered to be safe.

To recap:

  • HSV-1 typically dies quickly once it is removed from its original transmission location. The virus also meets the same fate when placed on objects. This is why the chances of becoming infected from touching a doorknob, for example, is incredibly unlikely.
  • While it is possible for a cold sore outbreak to spread, the odds of that specific outbreak being relocated is minuscule. The virus, once transferred to a new location, will die within seconds while on the skin.
  • HSV-1 needs a saliva host to survive. Without that foundation, it has no way to flourish.[3]

Health Problems That Can Occur Due to Shaking Hands

While being on the receiving end of an HSV-1 transfer is quite slim, shaking hands with someone is not sanitary. Although it is regarded as a cordial and respectful exchange, your hands can be a germ-filled playground, especially your palms.

Regarding health issues, the introduction of germs and bacteria can lead to a host of infections. While most are minor, illness can be the result of this type of contamination. From gastrointestinal issues to respiratory infections, the act of shaking hands can come at a price. This is why it is critical to practice good hygiene. There is no such thing as washing your hands too often.

As it relates to why hands are so problematic, it is merely due to the demands of the day. Life requires us to handle and touch various objects. Because people tend to shake hands without giving it a second thought, health problems can be introduced. This is one of the reasons why young people, especially school children, deal with sickness during the academic year.

To summarize:

  • Shaking hands several times during a day can introduce a host of germs and bacteria. This can lead to various types of infection that cause illness. While most ailments are minor, contamination of this fashion can culminate in sickness.
  • School children, for example, often fall victim to illness from this type of activity. Since basic daily hygiene practices are not always followed, children are more likely to spread germs in this fashion.

Can shaking hands spread the herpes simplex virus?

Will Hand Washing Protect Me from the Herpes Virus?

Hand washing will also protect you from germs and bacteria in general. Having high standards of hygiene can provide a shield against some of the most common physical contact transfer ailments. While nothing is foolproof, you are less likely to transfer germs to others if you wash your hands often. Additionally, you are less likely to self-contaminate if you wash your hands accordingly.

If you lead a busy existence, both occupationally and recreationally, you might find it difficult to wash your hands as often as needed. This fact alone, although primarily taken for granted, can result in sickness.

While the concern over HSV-1 is warranted, especially if you are unfamiliar with the virus, it is important not to overlook other issues. Exercising proper hygiene can dramatically decrease your odds of various types of infections. This will result in increased health thus culminating in more productivity in every facet of your life.

To recap:

  • Never ignore or underestimate the power of daily hygiene. Making it a priority to wash your hands at every opportunity is critical. This small action can keep you productive and away from a doctor’s waiting room.

Proper Hygiene Should Never be Understated

The final takeaway is the importance of proper hygiene. This not only in respect of cold sores prevention but a defense against common germs and bacteria.

Even though we also realize the significance of washing our hands, we can forget to do it when we’re busy. You might find yourself shaking hands with ten people and then rubbing your eyes.

If you are concerned about viral transfer due to skin-to-skin contact, take the necessary precautions. By taking care of your hands and keeping them away from your mouth, you are less likely to encounter an issue. Make sure you put your health first…even on the busiest of days.


  1. Grinde B. Herpesviruses: latency and reactivation – viral strategies and host response. Journal of Oral Microbiology. 2013;5:10.3402/jom.v5i0.22766. doi:10.3402/jom.v5i0.22766.
  3. Kukhanova M. K., Korovina A. N., Kochetkov S. N. (2014). Human herpes simplex virus: life cycle and development of inhibitors. Biochemistry (Mosc) 79, 1635–1652. 10.1134/s0006297914130124