Are cold sores contagious? If yes, when are they contagious? This article tries to explore the answers to these questions.
Cold sores are small, reddish blisters that develop on the lips and around the mouth. Sometimes, they may also occur on the tongue, gums, hard palate, inside of the cheeks, nostrils, or chin. Also referred to as fever blisters, they are caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two strains of this virus, namely, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 causes cold sores on the mouth or lips while HSV-2 causes genital herpes. Usually, the symptoms appear about 20 days after the exposure to the virus.
Cold sores are extremely contagious. The HSV virus can spread easily from one infected person to another. The virus can spread even if the infected individual does not manifest any noticeable symptoms. The various modes through which an HSV-1 infected person can pass on the virus to someone else are as follows:
- Direct skin contact
- Coughing or sneezing
- Sharing things such as toothbrush, towel, utensils, razor, lipstick, lip balm, clothes, etc.
Immediate family members and children of the infected person are highly vulnerable to the infection since the virus can spread even through a simple touch. Once a person gets infected with the virus, it remains in his/her body either in a dormant state or in an active state. The outbreaks of cold sores are rare in healthy individuals; however, their chances are higher among people who have a weakened immune system, and those with certain medical conditions.
When are Cold Sores Contagious?
There are several stages of cold sore outbreaks which vary in virulence and symptoms. In the initial stage, the infected site feels a tingling and burning sensation along with mild pain. Even though the detectable symptoms are absent at this stage, the risk of spreading the virus is still high. This is due to the fact that the HSV-1 is reactivated after the dormant stage. Within a few days, small and hard blisters appear on the lips and around the mouth.
After a few days, the blisters break open, and a clear fluid oozes out of it. This particular stage is called the weeping stage, in which the risk of spreading the virus is the highest. Following this stage, the cold sores crust over and heal without leaving scars. The virus can spread even when the sores crust and scab is gone though the virulence is comparatively lower in this stage. However, the symptoms may last for about 2 weeks.
Apart from the risk of spreading HSV-1 from the infected person to another person, the virus can also spread to various parts of the infected individual. In addition to the blisters, the noticeable symptoms include fever, swollen glands, inflammation of the body, and sore throat. Many times, theses symptoms are confused with canker sores. Although cold sores are not curable, they can be treated to some extent. Certain home remedies can be followed to reduce their recurrent onset.
In order to prevent the spread of HSV-1, one should practice personal hygiene, consume healthy foods, and avoid contact with the infected person.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.