How Long Is a Cold Contagious?

Woman sneezing at bus stop
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No one likes getting sick with a cold. As soon as the symptoms start you probably start thinking about how long you are going to feel like this. But have you ever wondered how long you might be contagious with cold symptoms? Knowing when you are contagious with a cold is important to avoid spreading your germs to other people -- especially those who could develop serious complications from your illness.

Common cold symptoms include a runny nose, congestion, coughing, headache and sore throat. Although you may not experience all of these symptoms every time, if you have some of them without any other significant symptoms (such as high fever, vomiting, etc), you probably have a cold or some sort of viral infection.

Colds are the most commonly occurring infection in the United States and they spread very easily from person to person. They can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, making it impossible to develop any sort of vaccine or medication to kill or prevent the common cold. Preventing the spread of these viruses and protecting those who might not recover as easily as we do is up to all of us.

How Long is a Cold Contagious?

Colds are most contagious 2 to 4 days after your symptoms first develop. However, the virus can live in your body and spread to others for up to three weeks. That's right, you could spread your cold virus germs even after you feel better.

Most cold last for about a week but it's possible to spread the virus long after that. 

Colds are spread through the air and on surfaces. When you are sick, coughing, sneezing and even breathing sends the virus into the air around you and onto every surface (or person) you touch. Since you can't stop coughing or breathing when you are sick, the only way to avoid spreading your cold is to try to stay away from as many people as possible.

Wash your hands frequently and sanitize everything in your environment when you are feeling better.

In today's fast-paced society, it is practically unheard of to call in sick to work or take the time to recover when you aren't feeling well, but that's exactly what we should all be doing. If we took more time to take care of ourselves and prevent these germs from spreading to everyone around us, we might all get sick a little less often. 

If you simply can't avoid being around others, make sure you cover your cough, wash your hands before you touch someone else and always before preparing food. Stay away from people with weakened immune systems and young infants when you are sick as well. Not sure if you have a cold or the flu? Take this quiz!


Infections: Common Cold. KidsHealth 2012. Nemours Foundation. 27 Mar 12.

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