July 23, 2017
Woman suffering from influenza
Ask the Experts

How Long Is a Cold Contagious?

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

Q: How long are you contagious when you have a cold?

A: As a general rule, adults with a cold will be able to infect others one day before symptoms appear, and up to five days or so after becoming sick. Infants and children are able to transmit these viral infections for seven days or longer. The precise number of days for transmission can vary from person to person. Those in poor health tend to get infected more easily. Children are also more likely to catch (and transmit) colds.

Cold viruses, abundant in nasal and throat secretions, are mainly transmitted via hands. When you blow your nose, touch your face, or wipe your eyes, the virus transfers to your hands, and then to whatever or whomever you touch. If you contaminate a telephone, the next person who uses it may catch your cold. To avoid spreading or catching a cold, the most important precaution is to wash your hands often and well. Hand sanitizers are a good option when you’re not near a sink.

Coughing and sneezing can also spread the virus, of course. If you don’t have a tissue, instead of sneezing or coughing into your hand, do it into your arm or shoulder, thus avoiding contaminating your hand.

If you think you are getting sick, limit your contacts. Don’t hug and kiss. If you’re around someone who is sick, stay at least six feet away—cold viruses can’t be propelled much farther than that before falling to the ground. Don’t share drinking glasses, utensils, phones, or towels.

Flu viruses may not travel in exactly the same way as cold viruses, but your best bet is to take these same precautions to avoid transmitting or catching the flu.

Also see Can Supplements Fight Colds?