Is it safe to kiss your kids if you have a cold sore?

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As a mother, any stories about weird health issues affecting children tend to catch my attention, and so it was not unusual for me to stop what I was doing to study this article from the New York Times about a three-year-old girl who apparently caught herpes in her eye after her mother had kissed her with an infected lip.

So wait, if you have a cold sore, even if there is no blister or sign of infection, is it not safe to kiss your child on the face? I continued reading the article and the author, a medical student, quickly defined the answer to my panicked question. The virus is called herpes simplex 1 and yes, it is highly contagious.

“The virus can infect the eye, causing what’s known as herpes keratitis, which if left untreated can cause permanent damage to the eye. It is the most common infectious cause of blindness in the United States and much of the rest of the world. While it is easiest to spread through direct contact between an open blister and the skin, herpes can be transmitted even when there is no sore visible.”

The good news is that a parent with a cold sore – even if there are no symptoms of a sore – kissing a child on the face is not likely to transmit herpes to the child. This is actually quite rare, but enough to give me pause. While there is much stigma with the word herpes, the Times article points out that,

“More than two-thirds of all the people on the planet test positive for antibodies to this herpes virus. It is far more common than its close cousin, herpes simplex 2, which usually infects the genitals.”

Cold sores are already tenacious little buggers that are unpleasant to deal with. Here are a few facts about cold sores to keep in mind.

  • Cold sores are also called fever blisters but have nothing to do getting a cold.
  • Herpes simplex lives in your nervous system and sores are triggered by stress, too much sunlight, being ill, or even menstruation.
  • Cold sores are not the same as canker sores, which are white sores that appear inside the mouth but are not related to the herpes virus.
  • Cold sores spread when you have symptoms of itchiness, pain, or sores. You are no longer contagious once the sore heals over completely.
  • If you have a sore on your lip then don’t kiss anyone, share silverware, straws, or drinks. Keep it covered with an ointment designed to treat cold sores.

Cold sores stink out loud for anyone who catches them. It is easy to prevent the spread of them so pay mind to when symptoms appear and try your best not to kiss your kid on the face.