How Long Are You Contagious to Others With a Cold?

Every year, millions of people get sick with a cold. The CDC tells us that the common cold is the leading cause of missed school days and missed work days. A cold can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days, but for people with preexisting health conditions, like asthma, a cold may cause life-threatening health complications that can make recovery longer. While you’re contagious, it’s important to follow precautions to prevent spreading a cold to others.  

When is a Person Contagious With a Cold?

It’s possible for you to spread a cold 1 to 2 days before you feel symptoms and as long as your symptoms are present. In some cases, someone with a cold may be contagious for up to 2 weeks after they start to notice symptoms. You are most contagious during days 1 to 3 of having cold symptoms.    

Some people think that the severity of their symptoms indicates how contagious they are. If you have mild symptoms, it does not mean that you are less contagious than if you were to have severe symptoms. The cold virus is spread by contaminated surfaces, contaminated droplets in the air, and by being in close contact with someone who is sick. The more you cough and sneeze, the more likely you are to spread the cold virus to someone else. However, you are still contagious even if you don’t have physical symptoms, like coughing and sneezing. If you don’t wash your hands regularly after going to the bathroom or blowing your nose, you are still likely to spread a cold virus to someone else. 

How Does a Cold Spread?

Viruses that cause colds can enter the body through the eyes, mouth, or nose. When someone who is sick with a cold sneezes, coughs, or even talks, droplets are released into the air and can then be inhaled by someone else. It can also spread when people share the same utensils or drink out of the same glass or by touching a surface that has the cold virus on it and then touching your face.

How to Protect Others When You Are Contagious With a Cold

While you’re contagious and at risk of spreading the cold virus to others, the CDC suggests that you:

  • Stay at home
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue that you can throw away
  • Frequently wash your hands, especially after blowing your nose or coughing/sneezing into a tissue

Help Prevent the Spread of Cold Viruses

The common cold, while mild for some, can be dangerous for others and may even lead to more serious illnesses, like bronchitis. Knowing when you are most contagious and taking proper steps are actions that go a long way in helping to minimize the risk of spreading your cold to others.