Are cold sores contagious? Yes, cold sores are so contagious that you can spread it to other people as well as to different parts of your own body. To understand how it is spread and how to avoid doing so, you must understand how the herpes simplex virus works, as this is the culprit behind cold sores.
If you have already contracted the virus, it hides in your nerve cells and is occasionally activated when the conditions are right, such as when you have a fever, when your immune system is weak, when you are stressed, when you suffer a sunburn, when your lips are injured or, if you are a woman, when you menstruate.
Herpes simplex type 1, mostly responsible for cold sores, and herpes simplex type 2, mostly responsible for genital sores, are spread in the same way and can, in fact, both cause cold sores.
- If you have a microscopic cut on your skin or your mucous membranes, and this cut contacts any herpes sore, the herpes virus will be transmitted to you. For example, if you use the same lip balm, towels, or cutlery as someone with cold sores, if you kiss someone who has an outbreak, or if you perform oral sex on someone with genital herpes sores, you will contract the virus. If you perform oral sex while you have an outbreak, and your partner has a microscopic cut on his genitals, you can pass your herpes simplex type 1 virus on to him in the form of genital herpes.
- It is also possible to spread the virus while you are not having an outbreak. Occasionally, the virus becomes active and replicates without showing symptoms like cold sores or fever blisters. Medical experts call this asymptomatic shedding. During periods of asymptomatic shedding, you can transfer the virus to your partner if he has a microscopic cut and he touches your lips, or touches something that has touched your lips. This is probably why herpes runs in families, as it is inevitable that parents pass it between each other and onto their kids when they are still toddlers.
For this reason, you can never guarantee that you will not spread the virus. But there are some things you can do that make it less likely that you will pass it on.
- Use your own towels, pillow cases, face cloths, and lip balms, and wash glasses and cutlery after each use. The virus does not survive for long outside the moist, warm conditions existing inside the body, so the chance that you will pick it up from used crockery and cutlery in a restaurant, for example, is negligible.
- Wash your bath and kitchenware and everything else that touches your cold sores in water of at least 56°C or 132.8°F for 30 minutes or more. This is why dishwashers are better than manual washing up by hand.
- Researchers have proved that lysol, listerine, bleach, and rubbing alcohol can kill the virus, so use them liberally around your house.
- Apply your cold sore cream with a cotton swab that you throw away afterwards. Wash your hands immediately with one of the above-mentioned disinfectants if you have touched it.
Wear condoms and dental dams during oral sex while you or your partner have a genital or cold sore outbreak. Unless you wear protection all of the time, this will not protect you against transmission during asymptomatic shedding, which is why it is important to restrict the partners with whom you have unprotected sex to only one.
- A strong immune system can build antibodies to the herpes virus and keep it inactive permanently. You cannot transmit it while it is inactive. I used a program called Ultimate Herpes Protocol to help my immune system with this task. Alternatively, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, and lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy, and legumes for the amino acid lysine. In addition, limit your intake of grains until these nutritious foods to dwarf them in your diet.