Saturday, December 10, 2016

Herpes from a Virtual Reality Headset?

After I completed my undergraduate degrees at North Dakota State University, I was interested in an MPH in global health type stuff. After being accepted to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, I took a bit of a detour and did my MS in a lab that primarily looked at the link between herpes virus and cancer.

Pittsburgh, is where I learned to love herpes. And we all know, that herpes love lasts forever.

There are many ways we have learned you can get herpes, various styles or methods of sexual intercourse being the main way, but for other types of herpes virus (Epstein-Barr) it is often vertical transmission or normal close human-human contact.

Now, there seems to be a new way to spread herpes simplex and it is related to a new technology.

Ask me questions using the comments section below!

Recently, a panic went through the virtual reality (VR) community about an ocular herpes outbreak due to a shared VR headset at a technology convention. There is no confirmation of this in any public health reports, but the possibility is real.

Herpes is quite contagious, as are other possible infections (bacterial in nature as well) that could cause pink-eye or conjunctivitis. 

Now, the odds of this happening are quite slim. But, I think it is a legitimate concern, enough so that it might not be a terrible idea to have an alcohol disinfectant spray or pad if you plan on using these devices after a large number of people at a convention.

Reports like this are always interesting to me. The way that bacteria and viruses spread (herpes is a virus) is and always will be important, but the way that technology aids in their transmission is also extremely useful. I doubt a lot of design people think about how their products will aid the spread of disease, it just isn't something that most people consider. 

VR headsets are another in the long line of developments. Razor blades for shaving, tattooing, etc. all have been inventions that inadvertently can spread disease.

However, as with most everything, someone is already doing work on this subject. Curtis Brandt at UW-Madison is an expert in ocular herpes. The Brandt lab was one I was interested in doing my PhD at. However, fate took me elsewhere.


  • I have a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology, and I am currently a Principal Scientist.
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