Do You Think a Cold Is Contagious Without a Fever?

Updated on October 18, 2011
C.O. asks from Reston, VA
26 answers

We've had questions on here about play dates being canceled because of a cold or the typical response is "if there is no fever, you are fine." And was raised that if you didn't have a fever, you weren't contagious.

I know that germs still spread with an uncovered cough and sneezing....that can be said for anyone who coughs or sneezes though.

What is your take? If your child is coughing and sneezing - but has no fever and a typical anti-histamine is not working (so you rule out allergies) do you send your child to school even though there is NO fever and otherwise fine?

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answers from Kalamazoo on

Yes - you can be contagious with zero symptoms. Kids go to school as long as they don't feel so bad that they can't function, or if they have strep or flu or something worse like that. I can't keep them home every time they have a cough or stuffing nose - they'd be home 1/3 of the winter!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Yes I send to school unless she feels bad or I see her in distress. I do believe though that you can be contagious without a fever and then playdates and such are then up to the individual they are playing with. I am a mom who does not avoid germs because I want them to build resisitance and I will deal with what comes, but yes I believe you are contagious without a fever!

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answers from Washington DC on

Lot's of colds NEVER present a fever... clearly it's contagious though because people catch colds.

So, yes... you can be contagious without the fever.

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answers from Atlanta on

Hi Cheryl,

A fever has nothing to do with anything being contagious or not. A fever is just your body's way of fighting off whatever is going on. I would keep mine at home until symptoms are gone....


7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Of course!! A cold is a virus. Virus is spread through body fludis - sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and by the hands that touch the nose, eyes, mouth, etc.

In my experience, a cold usually doesn't come with a fever. Fevers more often accompany more risky infections, like strep, which is why schools keep kids with fevers out. Also, because a kid with a fever feels lousy and shouldn't be forced to be at school.
As far as sending my kids to school with a cold, I consider the severity of the symptoms, their level of discomfort, and their age/ability to cover mouths with elbows and reliably wash hands.

And antihistimines work on colds too, not just allergies. That is what I take for a runny nose. They usually aren't recommended for very young kids. It is a main ingredient in things like Nyquil.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

do i think it is? no, i know it is.

our preschool has rules about being fever free for 24 hours. i abide by that. however, i admit to having to send my son to school with minor sniffles. first because i can't call out every time he has a cold, and S. because these are not the debiliating illnesses that are a danger to kids. minor colds don't hurt them, they only boost the immune systemand are a minor inconvenience. if i have a cold, i still go to work - minor sniffles, sneezing, some coughing or laryngitis. no biggie. now if i am (or he is) just miserable and feeling awful, then yes, stay home. it's unrealistic to think every kid will be staying home for every minor bug.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Of course a cold is contagious without a fever, but if we all stayed home every time we had a cough or sniffle the world would come to a grinding halt. So yes I send my kids to school/daycare with colds and expect that others will be there with colds as well and that chances are, they're all passing the germs around.

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answers from Fayetteville on

Rhinoviruses or colds are contagious. Even without a fever present.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Yeah, it's just as contagious with or without a fever. If there is coughing and runny noses, we assume we are infectious and don't go out. But, I'm not a normal situation. I've mentioned before that my oldest is immune compromised. Her body doesn't make enough red blood, white blood, or platelets. She's on medication that helps boost her red blood, but frustratingly enough, it doesn't seem to do much with her other blood counts. When she gets sick, her bone marrow can't handle the illness. It'll boost white blood cell production for a few days, but then it's like it gets worn out (only about 10% of her bone marrow makes blood when over 90% should be making blood), and it massively drops production of all cell lines. For those who understand, it's dropped her platelets to 9, anc to under 400, hemoglobin to 6.4, and hematocrit to 18. She's had to be on blood and platelet transfusions for four months due to getting sick once. Now her blood counts are all low and she is in need of a bone marrow transplant. We're hoping our 2 week old baby will be her bone marrow match (cord blood transplant if so).

I share all this because we HAVE to be careful of illness. When I see kids that are obviously sick out in public, it makes me feel so paranoid. I wish badly that people would keep their sick kids in, but I know that's not realistic to expect of other people. So, it leaves us being very careful of exposing her (and the rest of us) to any germs. They don't get to go out as much, especially in flu season. We can't risk the germs!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Fevers are not an indicator of whether or not an illness, including a cold, is contagious. Illnesses are contagious during their incubation period and that depends on the illness. Whether an illness if even contagious depends on what the illness even is.

With a cold, people are contagious 24-48 hours before symptoms even show up. That's your incubation period. Then once symptoms show up you're contagious for 3 days but can have symptoms for up to five. However, there are hundreds of strains of the virus, so you could still be contagious the entire time until you're no longer excreting bodily fluids. Fever plays no part in contagion.

So here's the thing. If your child has a cold and is coughing, there are mucus and saliva droplets spewing all over. Ditto with sneezing and nose blowing. If your child has drippy boogers, they'll get smeared onto surfaces with hands even if they're using tissues and washing hands.

The courteous thing to do when you or your kids have a cold is to keep them away from parties and play dates throughout the duration of the cold. If you have to send your child to school because technically there's no fever and they haven't had one for 24 hours then make an effort to suppress their cough and minimize the boogers. Teach them to cough into their elbow, use tissues to blow their nose, and wash their hands frequently.

If my child is miserable, I will keep her home even without a fever. A fever isn't the only indicator that they should stay home.

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answers from St. Joseph on

yep you sure are. what really sucks though is the inccubation period of all these germs. usually you are "sick" for 6 to 10 days before the outward symptoms appear. nasty little buggers!!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I'd probably cancel a playdate if the kid was super-boogery or coughing a lot for sure. Just because you don't have a fever does not mean your not contagious.

(I didn't go see my friends new baby unti he was a month old b/c I was coughing a lot.) So instead of asking "would you send your kid to school", consider "would you let your child hold an infant?" Yes - then they're not really sick. No - then they are likely contagious (or at least not well enough to be holding/near a baby!)

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Colds are contagious without a fever. Many adults never have a fever. And yes I send my son to school - after all he probably got it there and most of the kids have already been exposed. I don't stay home from work either when I have a cold. I would say the flu is different - more severe, associated with a fever and KILLS a substantial number of people every year. Of course, that's why there is a flu shot.

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answers from New York on

my kids usually don't have fevers with colds, but colds make them miserable. imagine sneezing, watery eyes from stuffy nose, coughing... i don't send them to school while the symptoms are at their worse, usually 2-3 days (a week for the flu). yes they miss out on school stuff but we catch up once they are back and weekend comes along. i am miserable when i have a cold. so i know how kids feel. yes, no playdates or activities during that time either.

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answers from Seattle on

And the idea that yellow or green snot is a bacterial infection is incorrect. It's just part of the process; snot changes color as the body fights the cold. Please don't ask the doc for antibiotics because of this.

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answers from Seattle on

If I kept my kids home every time they got a cold we would never go to school, church, soccer, playdates. I send them to school with a cold as long as there is no fever and no yellow snot. Clear nose and a cough? Off they go! If it's a play date or a family get together than I call and let everyone know and make sure no one has an issue with it. I can't remember the last time we were asked not to come because of the common cold.
Fever, puking, diarrhea, all good reasons to stay home.

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answers from Dallas on

I get about 1 cold per year and never run a fever. I almost never realize I even have a cold until my normal allergy medication is not working or I start coughing (I almost never cough with allergies) Unfortunately by the time you start to show symptoms you have already passed on the germs to others so it cycles through regardless.

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answers from Boston on

I still send the kids to school unless they are really feeling crummy. As for playdates... we skip them. I just found this on WebMD. "Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you are contagious. This means you can pass the cold to others, so stay home and get some much-needed rest." I didn't know this... I knew that colds were contagious but not for how long!

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answers from St. Louis on

No one in my family gets a fever with a cold. We also don't get them with ear infections. Even with a flu it is a very low fever. I guess we are strange.

Then again we never stay home with colds because we can't tell the difference between a cold and allergies cause, no fever.

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answers from Boca Raton on

I asked something similar to this a couple weeks ago.. My son DOES have a cough and a clear runny nose. Has not had a fever at all though. 1/2 his class is coughing... I normally wouldnt send him, BUT every other parent does send their child to school, so I do as well... If I was to keep him home just for his cough, then he would be home from school for 1.5 weeks... He's on prescription cough medicine, acting TOTALLY fine, he just has a lingering bad cough....
I never 100% know the "proper" thing to do when it comes to school... When it comes to a playdate, I let the other mom decide. I do always tell the moms though...

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answers from Redding on

Um, yes. Most colds don't come with fever just SNOT.
Think about it, since most kids catch colds, I think it's all part of life.. it's a stage of human development. Should we be conscientious and try not to spread it, yes... but it's still going to happen. It's part of our process. You really can't hide from it. The common cold is something they've been trying to cure for YEARS... I dont think it's meant to be, it's an immune system builder.
Speaking of cures, when was the LAST time anything has been cured? Seems to me it was polio, 50 years ago. Now it's all about pain killers to get you through or new ways to graph your current illness. Sorry, that was a rant about our medical association..

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answers from Washington DC on

I'm gonna be "tmi" for a second... We have a bug going around in our family... with NO FEVER. It isn't a cold, but it causes diarrhea... like the worst diarrhea of my life. Like, 6 times an hour. I'm really dehydrated, but I keep on drinking water, Smart water, ginger ale, gatorade, teas... but it all goes out as qucikly as I drink it.

My point? I got it from a friend, and now two of my daughters have it (not as bad as I do, thank goodness)

So yes, I'm certain that sicknesses can go around w/o a fever.

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answers from Utica on

If you know its a cold then yes they are contagious for the duration of your cold - you dont have to have a fever to pass on a cold

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answers from Norfolk on

I'd say yes.
Some might fight off a cold better than others so what is sniffles for one is a major fever cold in another.
Also sometimes it's hard to tell exactly what is a cold.
If someone is allergic to pollen, they are sniffling and sneezing but they are not contagious.
The presence of a fever is a deciding factor (but not the only one) about whether they should stay home or not.
If we all stayed home for every sniffle that came along we'd end up not being able to conduct work/school/business.

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answers from Pittsburgh on're wrong about the fever part, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In fact, according to the mayo Clinic, the common cold is usually NOT typically accompanied by a fever at all.

The common cold is the rhinovirus and like all viruses, they are highly contagious.

As for MY child, if he has a cold and no fever, he generally goes to school. Usually IF a child has a fever, they feel worse, thus the reason for keeping them home. But it's not because no fever=not contagious.
I usually base home vs. school on how my child looks and feels, and of course, our school policy is no school with a fever.

Here's a link in case you have further questions:

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answers from Providence on

When one person in my family gets a cold, we all get it. Fever or no fever. Colds are contagious with or without an added fever. I usually send my son to school if he just has a cold, though. Unless he is feeling bad, then I know a fever is coming, so I keep him home.

He gets so many colds each year from school, so we try to prevent as best we can by making sure he washes his hands/face, showers daily, and takes vitamin c with his multivitamin every day. For me, I Echinacea it. Usually if I start it early enough, my cold isn't as bad, and I can take care of my little one without sneezing all over him!

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