Getting an STD from contaminated bed sheets

Although the chances of getting an STD from a surface such as contaminated bed sheets are low, it is still possible. The most common STDs that can live outside the body of the host, for several days, are hepatitis, HIV, herpes, and HPV. What they have in common, is that they are all viruses. Provided that you cannot see them you should always clean the surfaces, with which other people interacted.

Another category of STDs that can easily survive in surfaces are parasites, such as the one causing trichomoniasis or pubic lice. Therefore, you can easily get such an STD through contaminated towels or dirty bed sheets.

If you think you got yourself exposed to any STD, you should get tested. You can do so with an STD test kit. Make sure you get your partner tested as well. If one of you tests positive, make sure you get proper treatment for it. 

What are the chances to get HIV from stained bed sheets?

The chances to get HIV from stained bed sheets are low. The virus that causes HIV cannot survive for long outside the host because it starts to dry up when exposed to air. The result is virus inactivation, meaning that the virus dies.

Research suggests that 90 to 99% of the virus dies when leaving the body of the infected individual. However, in some cases, the virus is still active.

Keep in mind that the routes of HIV transmission are unprotected sex, blood, and vertical transmission from the mother to the child. Therefore, the chances to get HIV from a surface like bed sheets are almost nonexistent. 

Unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex is not the only way to get a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You can also get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) without having sex, such as through skin-to-skin contact or blood transfusions. However, contaminated bed sheets or towels could also pass a disease to you. Let's go through the ways you can catch an STD without having sex and focus on contaminated bed sheets and towels. 

How can you get an STD?

The main route of STD transmission is through unprotected, penetrative vaginal, oral, or anal sex due to the high affinity of our mucous membranes to such pathogens. We have mucous membranes at our genitals and oral cavity. Skin-to-skin contact can also result in STDs, such as HPV and herpes infection. Also, the transmission of STDs through blood is possible as well. An example is HIV, which can spread through open wounds, sores, and cuts on the skin and mucous membranes, as well as blood transfusions. Another route of transmission is through the eyes, which represent an entry point at our bodies for infection. For example, you can have facial sex and get sperm in your eyes, putting yourself at risk for STDs. 

Another potential route of transmission is kissing. Research reveals you could get both herpes and gonorrhea by kissing an infected individual. If you get the disease and perform oral sex to another individual, you could potentially transmit it to the recipient. 

The most well-established and mainstream routes of transmission for STDs

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Genito-genital or mouth-to-genital rubbing
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Fingering and kissing 
  • Getting oral sex from a person with an oral infection
  • Blood transfusions or sharing needles or syringes
  • Getting infected body fluids in the eyes, such as blood, ejaculate, or pre-ejaculate
  • Mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy or delivery

Unusual ways you can get an STD

You can catch STDs by surprisingly unusual ways that you wouldn't think of, such as from eating food.

  • Contaminated Foods. You can get an STD through the oral-fecal route and without having sex. Such an example is the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which you can ingest through contaminated water or food. If an HAV-positive individual goes to the bathroom but doesn't wash their hands, he or she can transmit the virus to others. Although there are vaccines for HAV prevention, some people still have the disease.
  • Indirect contact. Mutual masturbation or sharing sex toys are both indirect ways to catch an STD. Some pathogens can survive underneath the fingernails or on material such as plastic. Therefore, it is significant to wash and decontaminate our hands or sex toys properly. 
  • Razors, needles, or syringes. Sharing objects that can cut the skin is a potential way to get or transmit an STD, such as HIV or hepatitis A, B, or C, which are all transmissible through the blood. 
  • Bed sheets and towels. Trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and other STDs can survive outside a host for some time which varies from minutes to hours. Bed sheets contaminated with genital fluids can pose a high risk of infection for others. Also, towels constitute a perfect environment for the survival of pathogens. Therefore, you theoretically get an STD from sleeping in contaminated surfaces. However, the data to support that is limited. 

 The bottom line

Although the chances are quite low, you can still get an STD found on a surface of a material, such as on bed sheets. Most likely, it would be a parasitic infection. Bacterial and viral STDs are more vulnerable and cannot survive for a long time outside the body of the host. If you think you got exposed to an STD, get yourself tested. Do not wait until symptoms appear. Most STDs are asymptomatic. Make sure your partner gets tested as well and treated if necessary. 

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