For Those Who Hate the Word "Nearly"
While clinicians agree it's nearly impossible to contract herpes from objects like drinking fountains and toilet seats, "nearly" doesn't mean "entirely." A 1990 study from the Kean College of New Jersey (now Kean University) found that a culture of the herpes virus applied to a common doorknob lived for two hours. The survival of most of the virus in the culture was cut short as the solution dried and as time wore on. Yet, at the 120-minute mark, the researcher still found infectious viruses on the hands of test subjects who touched the doorknob [source: Bardell].
Physicians and researchers consider the chances of contracting herpes from a drinking fountain or toilet extremely slim; the Mayo Clinic, for example, says that the herpes simplex virus (HSV) "is nearly impossible to get the infection through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person" [source: Mayo Clinic]. That's because the herpes virus eventually dies outside the human body.
When exposed to the air and to the comparably harsh conditions that exist outside of the human body, the herpes virus tends to die very quickly, especially in dry conditions. The virus has been found to die after about 10 seconds when transmitted to an object like a toilet seat, although in damp conditions like drinking fountains, it can live for a little while longer [source: HerpesOnline]. As toilet seats tend to be drier, this would make them even more difficult to contract herpes from.
This doesn't mean that it's impossible to contract herpes from objects. The Mayo Clinic hedges its bets by pointing out that it's possible to contract HSV-1 by sharing eating utensils, razors, drinking straws or towels, although it says these modes of transmission are much less probable in the case of HSV-2 [source: Mayo Clinic]. By far, the most common form of transmission remains skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
In the majority of people infected with the virus, an outbreak never occurs or symptoms are so mild they may go unnoticed [source: Mayo Clinic]. A study conducted in 2005 found herpes DNA present in 98 percent of the participants [source: Louisiana State University]. The participants hadn't known they had herpes and had never experienced symptoms.