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How Long Is a Cold Contagious?


Updated May 15, 2014

How Long Is a Cold Contagious?

Coughing can cause germs to spread.

Photo: James Gathaney/CDC/PHIL

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 cold.

Common cold symptoms include 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. Cutting down on how quickly they spread 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.

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 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.


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

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