Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. According to the World Health Organization, over 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have this virus, also known as HSV-1. Most of the time, it stays dormant inside your body. You may never even know you have it. For some people, however, it can cause cold sore flare-ups, which are contagious. They also spread easily.
Being around someone who has the herpes simplex virus won’t cause you to get it. However, being around someone with a cold sore can be a problem. Not only can it cause the virus itself, but it can trigger a cold sore outbreak of your own. Once you contract this virus, it will live in the ganglia nerve forever. Currently, there is no cure for it.
If you already know you’re prone to cold sores, it can be frustrating when they spread. Whether you get them from another person, or you don’t take the right precautionary measures to keep yourself safe, a flare-up can happen easily. Cold sores are extremely contagious.
So, why do your cold sores keep spreading? Can you do anything to prevent it from happening? Thankfully, there are answers to both of these questions that can help you in easing the discomfort of blisters, and potentially speed up the healing process.
How Do Cold Sores Spread So Quickly?
Cold sores can spread from person to person easily, or to others parts of your own body (autoinoculation). This article will cover several common actions that allow cold sores to spread. The good news is that there are precautionary measures you can take to help prevent these instances from happening.
Once you know how to protect yourself from a higher risk of getting a fever blister, you may be able to reduce the frequency of flare-ups. If you have to deal with cold sores regularly, you know how important that can be.
Coming Into Contact with Someone
One of the most common ways in which cold sores are spread is through coming in direct contact with someone who has one. The fastest way to get infected is by kissing someone with HSV-1. Any skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a flare-up can be risky.
Knowing the signs of a fever blister are important, so you can avoid coming in direct contact with someone going through the stages. Unfortunately, cold sores can start out as nothing more than an itching/tingling sensation. It’s important to trust your partner or someone you may be kissing or coming in contact with to let you know if they currently have (or are getting over) a cold sore.
You’ll be pleased to know that you cannot give your dog cold sores, or vice-versa. HSV-1 can only be passed from person-to-person, but there are feline and canine versions of the virus.
Sharing Utensils & Household Items
Because the herpes virus is passed from person to person so easily, it can also be passed through things a person with a cold sore uses. You should never share utensils with someone who has a blister. Sharing bites of food or drinks can put you at risk.
The herpes simplex virus can live on inanimate objects for a while after someone has used them. This includes things like lipsticks, toothbrushes, etc. Never share anything that could have potentially touched someone’s face when they have an active blister.
If you’re suffering from a flare-up yourself, you should also keep these precautions in mind. Throw away your toothbrush and get a new one after going through a cold sore. Don’t use things like cups, cutlery, etc., until they have been properly cleaned and sanitized. If you do, you could be exposing yourself to the virus all over again.
Making choices that cause the virus to spread within yourself is more common than you might think. It’s not easy to change your lifestyle for a few weeks because you have a flare-up. However, it’s necessary to speed up the healing time and avoid another one right away.
Touching the Affected Area
Think about how many times a day you touch your face. It’s probably more than you realize. Touching the affected area of your face can lead to spreading elsewhere. Additionally, cold sores are often itchy. You may feel the urge to scratch at the blister, especially as it starts to crust over.
Scratching at a cold sore poses two issues. First, you can spread the virus from your fingers to other areas of your skin. Blisters usually occur on the lips, but they can show up on the lips, the cheeks, eyelids, under the nose, and the fingers.
Second, scratching can cause the scab to crack open. When it does, it could bleed. This may open you up to a bacterial infection. It could also lengthen the healing time necessary for the blister to be completely gone.
Autoinoculation typically occurs during the primary outbreak because your body hadn’t developed the antibodies to keep you safe. If you touch a fever blister on the lip and touch the area around your eye, you could potentially develop ocular cold sores, for example.
You’re unlikely to spread cold sores through handshaking.
How Do I Know If I’m About to Get a Flare-Up?
One of the best ways to keep yourself (and others) more protected is to be able to identify the symptoms of a cold sore properly. Once you know you’re experiencing an outbreak, you can start a treatment solution right away. This will help to reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing time. You’ll also be able to take precaution when touching people and objects.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with cold sores are:
- Tingling around the mouth
- Liquid-filled blisters
Some people can even experience symptoms like a fever or swollen lymph nodes when they get a cold sore. If you’re able to understand the symptoms of a fever blister when you experience them, you can better protect yourself and others from spreading the virus.
Some Tips to Stop Spreading the Cold Sore Virus
Even though cold sores are contagious, they can be treated. Beyond that, there are several things you can do to stop the risk of spreading. Keep these tips in mind if you or someone you know frequently experience outbreaks.
- Start treatment without delay. Treatment won’t make a cold sore less contagious. However, many of them reduce the time it takes for the blister to heal. The less time you have to deal with it, the lower your risk of spreading the virus. There are dozens of over-the-counter treatments available, but one of the best is the FDA-approved Virulite Cold Sore Machine.
- To prevent spreading a cold sore to other areas of your body or other people, don’t touch it. If you find yourself touching it by accident, wash your hands straight away. A cold sore is very contagious at every stage, but even more so when it is oozing or scabbing. Wash your hands after you put on makeup and after you wash your face, as well.
- Be sure to wash/sanitize, or throw away anything that touched the blister directly. Not only does this include things like your toothbrush, but it could even include makeup products. Once a product has been contaminated with the virus, even just once, it can cause the blister to come back again and again.
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact. Kissing should be completely off the table with anyone if you have a cold sore. But, they can spread just through physical touch, so limit yourself from touching others as much as possible.
- Recognize what your triggers may be. Knowing the symptoms of a cold sore is important. But, knowing what causes them for you means you can work to avoid those triggers. You may need to lower your stress levels, protect yourself in the sun, or introduce a healthier diet. You won’t be able to prevent flare-ups altogether. But, you may be able to reduce their frequency. The fewer outbreaks you have, the less chance you have of spreading the virus to others.
Are Cold Sores Always Contagious?
Currently, no medication or treatment option is guaranteed to stop the spread of cold sores. Even cold sore patches that ‘seal’ blisters are not 100% effective, but they certainly help. However, many treatments make them less itchy. The less irritating a blister is, the less likely it is that you’ll touch it. Treatments are also designed to lessen their severity, and the time it takes for them to heal. The less time you have a visible cold sore, the better. However, don’t assume someone isn’t contagious just because the cold sore has visibly gone away. You should always wait several days after a blister has disappeared before things go back to ‘normal.’
Once you have the herpes simplex virus, you’ll have it for life. You may experience multiple outbreaks during that time. Or, you may only have one or two cold sores throughout your lifetime. No matter how many times you experience a flare-up, it’s important to know the best things you can do. Treat the blister to find relief, and take precautions to prevent spreading.
We hope that the tips in this article will make it easier for you to deal with a fever blister. Starting treatment is key to shortening their duration and finding relief. But, using precautionary measures to lower your risk of passing on a cold sore is equally important. The more cautious you are, the less risk is involved. By knowing as much as you can about how your body reacts to a flare-up, you can take better control when it comes to stopping the spread.