Countless individuals have asked the question: “Are cold sores contagious?” The short answer is “yes.”
In this article, I’m going to teach you why cold sores are contagious, and I’ll also inform you on how long cold sores are contagious for.
By the end of this blog post, you’ll have some helpful tips on how to avoid contracting cold sores if you don’t have them, and if you do have them – how to prevent spreading your highly-contagious cold sores.
Why Are Cold Sores Contagious?
Cold sores, also referred to as “fever blisters,” are the result of an extremely-contagious virus known as herpes simplex virus (HSV).
There are two types of HSV. HSV-1 is typically responsible for the contagious cold sores, and HSV-2 is most-often responsible for genital herpes.
However, both types of herpes simplex virus can lead to cold sores or genital herpes (through oral sex).
You know how contagious herpes is, right?
Cold sores are contagious in the same respect. The contagious cold sores are typically spread by kissing, sharing beverages and utensils, and other ways of direct contact with the virus.
In fact, the most common way people get infected with the contagious herpes labialis (lip herpes), is from ignorant parents kissing babies or children.
This is how the contagious cold sores were passed on to me (I think), and I’m certain this is how my daughter contracted cold sores. I knew better, but the mother of my child didn’t.
We shared custody of our newborn baby because we weren’t together anymore, and one day when she was dropping our daughter off, I saw her kissing our daughter right on the lips…with a highly-contagious cold sore on her lip!!!!
I was so angry, but then I realized she was just ignorant, and didn’t know that her cold sore was from the contagious herpes simplex virus – that would now certainly be passed on to our 2-month old daughter – and be with her for life.
Herpes Simplex Virus – The Virus That Keeps On Giving
Infection with herpes simplex virus begins with intimate contact with an individual who is shedding the virus.
Once the contagious virus spreads to the new host, it enters the oral or genital mucosal tissue and begins replicating, and it may cause an initial herpes simplex lesion.
The contagious virus then makes a permanent home in the host’s nerve endings, where it lies dormant most of the time, until things like stress, immunosuppression, sunlight, menstrual cycles, or other factors “wake the virus up” – thus leading to replication of the virus – creating contagious cold sores (typically on or near the same spot as the initial infection).
Unfortunately, once the contagious cold sore virus is contracted, there is no cure, only methods of prevention and treatment. The image below shows the type 1 herpes simplex virul strain (HSV-1).
How Long Are Cold Sores Contagious?
One question I get asked a lot is: “How long are cold sores contagious for?” Unfortunately, cold sores are contagious during the entire outbreak.
From the first moment you feel a slight tingle, itch, or burn, cold sores are contagious.
As they develop into fluid-filled blisters that start oozing, they become especially contagious.
Then, after the cold sore becomes a scab, it’s actually still contagious, even though a lot of people think they are in the clear at this point.
Just because the cold sore is scabbed over, doesn’t mean it’s no longer contagious.
It’s very easy for those scabs to break open (e.g. from eating, talking, smiling). And if the scab breaks open even a little, that’s enough for the cold sore to infect a lot of people if you’re not careful.
How To Avoid Spreading Cold Sores
Since cold sores are so contagious, it’s important to learn how to avoid spreading cold sores. Trust me, you don’t want to be responsible for someone you love getting the herpes simplex virus on their lips.
The following tips can help you avoid spreading contagious cold sores:
- Don’t kiss anyone while you have a cold sore.
- Avoid sharing drinks, straws, utensils, razors, towels, lip balm, or anything else that could spread your highly-contagious cold sore.
- Wear disposable gloves when you apply topical medicine to your cold sores.
- If you touch a cold sore with your bare hands, wash your hands before and after contact with the cold sore.
- Don’t engage in oral sex, as this can spread the virus to the genital region.
- Use medicine to shorten the healing time of cold sores, which means you won’t be contagious for as long.
- And remember…an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be mindful of triggers that may cause you cold sores, such as: stress, sunburn, immonosuppression, menstrual cycles, certain foods, etc.
Are Cold Sores Contagious? – Conclusion
No you know the answer to the question: “Are cold sores contagious?” Yes, cold sores are highly contagious, and you must be mindful when you have outbreaks so you don’t spread the herpes simplex virus to others.
The best way to prevent spreading cold sores is to not have an outbreak in the first place. That’s where prevention comes along. However, that is easier said than done. Fortunately, now you have a list of “no-no’s” to adhere to so you can prevent spreading contagious cold sores.
You also know that cold sores remain contagious from the first sign of a cold sore, all the way until it completely heals – after the scab has naturally fallen off (not picked off before ready).
The key to cold sores is to prevent them from forming in the first place.
Thus, I encourage you to check out my Ultimate Guide to Preventing Cold Sores.
It’s free and has absolutely everything you need to know.
If you have anything to say about the question “Are cold sores contagious,” please post it in the comment box below.