When is Your Common Cold Most Contagious?
It’s not called common cold for nothing. This pesky sickness is caused by different types of viruses and can spread around easily. If you’re around someone who’s got a cold either in your home or at the office, there is a pretty good chance that you’re going to catch the bug in the following days—especially if you’re immune system is down. What’s worse is that it’s quite possible to catch a cold more than once in a season with the variety of bacteria that can cause it.
You can get the virus through small particles in the air that can enter your body through your nose, eyes, and mouth. Transmission can either be through direct contact with a sick person or a contaminated object. The level of contagiousness and the transmission can vary when it comes to other illnesses like flu or other bacterial infections.
Fortunately, common colds can be treated easily. Over-the-counter medicines are readily available whenever you start to feel under the weather and isolating yourself from others can help stop it from spreading. However, with its ubiquitous nature, how will you know that it’s already okay to be in contact with others?
When is It Contagious?
It is widely known that a tell-tale sign that you’re sick is when symptoms start showing up. For common colds, it can include runny or stuffy nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, mild body aches, low fever, and general malaise.
So, most people assume that the worse your symptoms get, the more infectious you are. However, symptoms are signs that your body is already fighting the virus. Coughing helps get rid of the mucus that contains the virus.
When the common cold virus enters your body, it would take 72 hours for your immune system to mount a response. During this time, the virus is actively multiplying. So, it is possible to spread the bug before symptoms. However, this isn’t proven.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a common cold usually lasts around 7 to 10 days. Unless there are complications, the symptoms will subside over time. So, most people who have had a cold may be less contagious as time passes by.
According to Dr. Tania Elliott, NYU Langone’s clinical instructor of medicine and infectious disease, sick people are most contagious upon contracting the virus. The body will already be able to fight after the incubation period, so there will be fewer viruses circulating in your system.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, most people are infectious for about a week. After that, it is safe to assume that you already have a lower risk of spreading the bug around.
However, Dr. Elliott stated that feeling better can be subjective. It is recommended to look out for lingering symptoms if you’re worried about being contagious. Dr. Elliott says that ache, fever, and fatigue may mean that your body is still battling the virus, so it is assumed that infecting someone else is still a possibility. On the other hand, just a light cough or stuffy nose may mean that you’re not that contagious.
Possibility of Being Contagious After Symptoms Subside
Although you might be feeling better, a low-level virus may remain in your system. Usually, it’s not strong enough to infect healthy people. However, it may compromise those who have weaker immune systems like babies, the elderly, and those affected with illnesses that weaken the immune system.
Just to be safe, avoid being in close contact with them until you’ve been symptom-free for around 1 to 2 weeks. Preventive measures like good hand hygiene and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing are also advisable—even when you’re not sick.
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