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How Long are Cold Sores Contagious?

If you’ve ever experienced a cold sore, odds are you’ve done some research on the topic. You likely know that cold sores are caused by certain strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). And you probably also know that cold sores are most often spread through close physical contact, like kissing or oral sex, or shared items such as a eating utensils that have come in contact with the virus.I If you’re looking to help protect your loved ones from HSV infection, this very well may lead you to question just how long cold sores are contagious.

The Mayo Clinic tells us that cold sores are most contagious at the point when blisters are oozing, because the virus easily spreads through contact with infected body fluids.II However, cold sores can be contagious even when you don’t actually see the sores.III Because of this, you should consider your cold sores contagious from the moment you first feel that familiar cold sore tingle to when the cold sore has completely healed.IV When it comes to protecting those around you from cold sores, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Sometimes it can take two to three weeks for a cold sore to heal completely, so you should play it safe that entire time.V  
 

What Should I Do to Protect My Loved Ones?

There are a number of things you can do to help protect the people around you when you have a cold soreVI and they are very simple to put into practice. 

  1. Don’t kiss anyone when you have a cold sore. Kissing is one of the primary ways that HSV is spread. You can avoid that risk altogether simply by not kissing anyone from the moment you feel the tingle until the cold sore is completely healed.
  2. Don’t share any items that come into contact with a cold sore. HSV doesn’t necessarily require skin-to-skin contact to spread. Avoid sharing items like cold sore creams, towels, cutlery, or lipstick when you have a cold sore.
  3. Don’t have oral sex. You could potentially give your partner genital herpes if you engage in oral sex before your cold sore is completely healed.
  4. Don’t touch your cold sore. Other than applying a product like Abreva Cold Sore Cream to treat your cold sore, you should avoid touching it altogether. If, for some reason, you do have to touch your cold sore, be sure to wash your hands immediately afterwards. 
     

How Long are Cold Sores Contagious After Healing?

Every once in a while, people can pass the cold sore virus on to other people even when there isn’t a cold sore present. However, this very rarely happensVII. The highest likelihood of transmitting the virus, as we noted earlier, is when the cold sore blisters burst. Because HSV is so easily spread via skin-to-skin contact, it’s best to maintain the necessary precautions until your cold sore is completely healed.
 

How Long Are Cold Sores Contagious on Surfaces?

The virus that causes cold sores can be transmitted by shared personal items such as towels and shaving razors when the blisters are present.VIII However, the virus can only live for a few seconds outside of the body and can be killed with the use of soap and water.IX Once your blister has healed, clean and disinfect any surfaces or items that may have come in close contact with the cold sore. 

While cold sores may be unavoidable for some people, there are a number of things you can do to help support your immune system, like practicing intentional relaxation techniques. By helping to minimize the amount of your cold sore outbreaks, you help your loved ones around you as well. Get proactive and learn more about managing your lip health from Abreva today.

 

SOURCES

I. Cold Sore. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

II. Ibid

III. Ibid.

IV. Cold sores. United Kingdom National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cold-sores/. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

V. Cold Sore. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

VI. Cold sores. United Kingdom National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cold-sores/. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

VII. Cold sores: Overview. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525782/. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

VIII. Cold Sore. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

IX. Genital herpes – the Facts. The New Zealand Herpes Foundation. https://www.herpes.org.nz/herpes-patient-info/genital-herpes-the-facts. Accessed 12/17/20. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.