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Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S.

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Sharing Drinks With Others: Can I Actually Catch a Disease?

Posted: 05/21/2013 3:46 pm

One thing that has become very clear over the last decade or so is how thirsty we've all become. It seems like everyone has a bottle of water or some other drink with them at all times. Which is probably good -- the health benefits of water (and hydration in general) are well-known.

But all these bottles of water floating around lead to a lot of sharing drinks with others. Probably because it's so easy to do (you never see anyone sharing a glass of water, but sharing a bottle seems fairly common). Plus, you have the age-old "ooh that looks good, can I have a sip of that?" to try someone else's drink.

So this leads to the question -- is sharing drinks healthy? Can you catch diseases or other sicknesses from sharing drinks?

The answer is a resounding "yes" -- some diseases/sicknesses, anyway. Since there's almost certain to be saliva involved in any sharing of drinks, salivary transfer of germs/viruses/etc. is going to happen. The most common are the ones you'd expect (and the ones your grandmother warned you about). We're talking strep throat, the common cold, and mumps being the big three. There's also the rarer (yet deadly) meningitis.

Those are the main ones that can be transmitted via saliva. There are a few more I'd like to mention -- I've gone on extensively about cold sores (aka herpes simplex) here in my blog posts, which can be transmitted via saliva and kissing, so we can safely add that one to the list as well. And there's also mononucleosis, which is sometimes called the "kissing disease" -- that can go on the list, too.

So we have strep, the common cold, mumps, meningitis, herpes, and mono. These are easily the most common, and will make up the majority of any "diseases you can catch via saliva/mouth" list. There are also a few rarer ones, like foot-and-mouth disease, but that's not really something you see all that often in the adult "water-bottle sharing" world, so I won't get into that.

That said, there's something that really bothered me during my research -- it seems that reputable websites/organizations (I mean, we can trust the Centers for Disease Control -- the CDC -- right?) go out of their way to mention that certain diseases cannot be transmitted by sharing utensils and the like. Which is fine, but then they seem to contradict themselves.

For example, on this page for hepatitis B, the CDC says, "HBV is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, hand holding, coughing, or sneezing" (we can pretty much safely assume they mean water bottles there, too). But then, take a look on that page just a little above that statement -- they say "HBV is transmitted through activities that involve percutaneous (i.e., puncture through the skin) or mucosal contact with infectious blood or body fluids (e.g., semen, saliva)." See it right there -- saliva.

Then, a few lines down, they state the question: "How long does HBV survive outside the body?", and they answer it with "HBV can survive outside the body at least seven days and still be capable of causing infection."

See what's going on there? They first say that no, it can't be caused by sharing a fork (I'm obviously paraphrasing this), then they say but it's in saliva, and can live outside the body for seven days. So if the fork goes in your mouth, and the disease can be in saliva, and can live outside the body for seven days...

You know what that says to me? That says don't share forks (or water bottles) with someone who has hepatitis B.

I realize all of the above can sound a bit paranoid in terms of sharing water bottles. Because many of us do it often.

So basically, I've come up with a rule of the thumb (well, lips) -- my "official" opinion here is don't share water and/or drink bottles with anyone you wouldn't kiss on the lips. So if you are willing to kiss this person on the lips, then by all means, feel free to share your water bottle or other drink with them.

Of course, this can (somewhat) go by the wayside if we are talking about squeeze bottles that shoot the liquid into your mouth. Then it's entirely possible to share a drink without contact -- but then again, I'm sure someone with more medical knowledge than I will talk about airborne viruses and the like!

So let's keep it to my kissing rule, shall we? It's more fun that way, anyway.

Until next time, keep smiling!

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