Many people do not know that they have contracted the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) until they experience their first outbreak of cold sores. When they do have an active outbreak, they might not realize what is causing it. In this case, the carrier of the herpes virus might go on touching the cold sores or fever blisters as he or she probes the infection. The virus might then get transmitted to other parts of the body and to other people if he or she touches them. Not knowing that one has the virus, one can get careless and start spreading the virus to others. It is therefore very important to know the stages of cold sores and how contagious the herpes virus is.
There are three stages of contagious cold sores or fever blisters – the early stage (prodrome), the middle stage (weeping stage) and the last stage (healing). The symptoms of the early or ‘prodrome’ stage are: an itching, tingling or burning sensation in the lips or area wherein the sore will soon develop and a series of tiny blisters surrounded by a red area. In the middle stage or weeping stage, the fever blisters break open, weep and dry out, forming a yellow scab or crust. The final stage or healing stage happens when the fever blister has nearly healed and there is a red spot remaining on the skin. Then, anywhere from 2 to 14 days, the healthy pink skin replaces the red spot and he or she is finally healed.
At the first sign of an outbreak (prodrome stage), the virus is already active and anyone who comes into contact with the affected area risks being infected. But it is at the stage where the fever blisters start to ooze (weeping stage) that cold sores or fever blisters become highly contagious. The blisters burst, releasing fluid that contains millions of virus particles with the sole purpose of infecting other nerve cells. Every precaution should be done to avoid directly touching the cold sores at this point. Even after the blisters have scabbed over, the risk of transmitting the virus is relatively higher than normal. A person is still contagious until the red spot fades and healthy pink tissue has replaced the original cold sore or fever blister.
The ‘prodrome’ stage and the healing stage are actually the stages where the carrier might unknowingly spread the virus to other people. Since there is no significant skin trauma at these stages, people forget that they have contagious cold sores or fever blisters. Children usually get infected by the virus by relatives who kiss them without knowing that they are about to have an active outbreak.
Coming in direct contact with the cold sores is the most common cause of contracting the herpes virus. But the spread of the virus is not limited to this process. There are also risks in acquiring the virus by sharing items that directly touch the cold sores. A handkerchief that has been wiped over the contagious cold sores or fever blisters can carry virus particles that could be transferred to the person who borrows it. Sharing a cup or a glass with someone who has a cold sore outbreak might also result in a person acquiring the virus.
It is then a wise idea to observe proper hygiene, like washing hands often, when around people with contagious cold sores or fever blisters. Do not share cups or utensils with people who may be infected and refrain from physical contact with them until they are completely healed.
By knowing the stages of contagious cold sores or fever blisters and the methods of prevention, he or she may more effectively keep from spreading the HSV-1 Virus and more hopefully, keep from ever contracting the virus in the first place.
If you already have the HSV-1 Virus there may be ways to control outbreaks by stopping contagious cold sores or fever blisters before they start.