Can the herpes virus be spread through bath water?

Dear Dr. Tom:

Can the herpes virus be spread through bath water? The reason I am asking is that I usually bathe my three-year-old son. We bathe in the Japanese style, which means we first wash outside of the tub and then enjoy a neck deep soak in hot (about 42 C) water. I always avoid skin to skin contact with my son in the bath and give bathing duty to my wife if I have a visible outbreak. My wife and I have been together for 12 years and I have managed not to spread the virus to her. I have typically had only two or three outbreaks per year, but lately due to stress have been having 6 to 8 per year and I fear I may be shedding the virus asymptomatically. Should I worry about infecting the child while in the bath together?

Dr. Tom’s Response:

Dear Anonymous Bather:

You seem to have been successfully precautionary about bathing together, and marriage at large, since the virus infection has not spread to your wife of 12 years. Some items to consider which might help you are: 42C is not an ideal temperature for the virus, so your bath water, while not a virus killer, does not promote its survival. However, that is only +5 degrees above normal body temperature where HSV survives. The information suggests that you are not likely a shedder which makes your son?s safety more optimistic under the conditions you described. Avoidance of skin-skin contact enhances the safety factor for your son, but it does not protect him completely. Prudence might be a reason to consult your doctor about why you might be having more frequent episodes than you have experienced in the past. The fact that you have an HSV infection poses some risk to your family of cross-infection. You could alter your household bathing habits and lower the risk to your son further or you could continue what is probably an immensely familialy intimate experience with the realization that some risk of infectiousness may be there.


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