Cold sores pass through different stages. Initially, they cause an itching, burning or tingling sensation for a day or so. Then small, hard, painful spots appear, which quickly turn into erupting blisters. The fluid-filled blisters then break, oozing an yellowish liquid before crusting over. The scabs then flake off and the skin returns to normal. Cold sores persist for 7-10 days and rarely leave scars. Below is a list of ways you can protect yourself from contacting cold sore:
Be careful who you kiss and have sex with.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is typically spread from person to person contact, either by kissing or close contact with the genitals (oral sex). If unsure, avoid kissing any skin abnormalities and don’t exchange fluids.
Cold sores on the mouth are mainly caused by the oral (type 1) herpes virus, but they can also be caused by contact with the genital (type 2) herpes virus.
The most contagious period is when active and erupting blister-like sores are present, either near the lips or genitalia. Once the cold sores have dried and crusted over (which typically takes a few days), the risk of contagion is significantly reduced. However, keep in mind that HSV can spread without the presence of a cold sore of any kind, because it can infect saliva and other body fluids.
Ask all potential partners about their HSV status before being intimate with them.
A healthy immune response usually combats it and prevents infection. Thus, people with weakened immunity are at higher risk of HSV infection and complications.
Practice good hygiene.
It’s rare to catch HSV and cold sores from contaminated surfaces, such as toilet seats or countertops, or other mediums like towels and washcloths, but it can occur. The herpes virus isn’t well adapted to living outside the body, so it quickly dies when airborne or on surfaces — which is contrast to viruses that cause the common cold. However, you could easily get infected saliva or other body fluids directly on your hands from another person and then inadvertently rub your mouth or eyes, so washing your hands after touching people is a still good protective strategy.
Disinfect your hands by washing them with regular soap and water.
Don’t share food and beverages.
Normally, HSV lives within nerves (ganglions) near the spinal cord, then it eventually gets triggered and travels within smaller peripheral nerves to the surface of the skin (around the mouth or genitalia), where it erupts and causes the formation of a sore. However, as noted above, HSV can also live in saliva and blood at certain stages and under certain circumstances.
As such, reduce the risk of infected saliva exposure by not sharing food or beverages with anyone, regardless if they appear to have cold sores or not. In particular, refrain from sharing forks, spoons and straws.
For an infection to occur, HSV typically needs a way into tissue so it can access nerve fibers, which essentially act as “highways” for the virus. Thus, small cuts or abrasions around your mouth, on your lips and/or on your sex organs will increase the risk of infection. However, an infection can occur even without a cut.
Avoid sharing lip balms, lipstick and facial creams with other people also, as it’s theoretically possible for HSV to survive on or in these mediums for short periods of time.