The herpes virus could be transmitted through food

 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

The virus that causes cold sores can survive and remain infectious for several hours on food or food-related surfaces.

It is generally accepted that the virus responsible for cold sores is transmitted via saliva or direct contact with the lesions it causes. However, there are other potential transmission routes, according to a study published by a team from Université Laval in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. In fact, the team’s work indicates that this virus can survive and remain infectious for several hours on food, beverages and surfaces or objects associated with food.

To demonstrate this, the research team tested the persistence ofHerpes simplex type 1 on surfaces made of stainless steel, aluminum, glass or plastic, and on the following foods: cheddar cheese, sliced almonds, apple peel, orange juice, cola-type soft drinks, coffee and milk.

"These materials, which are present in many types of containers and cutlery, and these foods were chosen because they can be associated with food sharing," explains study leader Julie Jean , professor in the Department of Food Science and researcher at Université Laval’s Institut sur la nutrition et les aliments fonctionnels (INAF).

"We also assessed the transferability of the virus between a stainless steel surface and latex or nitrile gloves, such as those used by people working in the food industry," she adds.

The herpes virus survived at least 24 hours on all surfaces tested and at least one hour on all foods. "The only exception was cola, probably because of its acidity. We also found that the virus was transferable from stainless steel to latex gloves, especially when wet, but not to nitrile gloves," summarizes Prof. Jean.

"Although this route of transmission has never been demonstrated in humans, our study serves as a cautionary tale regarding the sharing of food and beverages."

-- Julie Jean

In Quebec, as elsewhere in the world, the prevalence of Herpes virus type 1 is high. The World Health Organization estimates that 67% of the adult population are carriers. "Our results show that food and surfaces can potentially be involved in the transmission of this virus. Although this route of transmission has never been demonstrated in humans, our study serves as a warning regarding the sharing of food and drink: care must be taken, especially if there are active lesions. Our observations also serve as a reminder of the importance of rigorously applying hygiene measures in the food industry."

The study’s signatories are Gabrielle Pageau, Marianne Levasseur, Teresa Paniconi, Éric Jubinville, Valérie Goulet-Beaulieu and Julie Jean, from the Department of Food Science and INAF, and Guy Boivin, from Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine.