DEAR HARRIETTE: My roommate has a huge cold sore on her face. I don't know much about cold sores, but when I looked them up, I read that they are extremely contagious. We live in fairly close quarters, and I am paranoid that I might catch this. My roommate has not mentioned anything to me about this being contagious. She says it's painful to talk, and I have found a note from the health center about the sore on her face. I want to disinfect everything, but I do not want to seem rude by protecting myself. Is there a tactful way to ask her about how contagious this is? I feel like I deserve to know if there is a chance that I will catch this. -- Suspicious Sores, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SUSPICIOUS SORES: Given that you live with this woman, you do have a right to ask her about her cold sore. Tell her that you read that cold sores are contagious. Ask her what the doctor told her about her condition. Based on what you read, tell her that you want both of you to be super conscientious about keeping your home clean to reduce the risk of infection.
My research says that once a person has the herpes virus, which causes cold sores, the person is contagious, even if cold sores aren't apparent. So you must be vigilant. Do not share beauty products, especially lip balm or lipstick. Do not share anything that goes in your mouth. While this may seem harsh, you should not share eating utensils either. Also, be sure to thoroughly wash all cooking items.
Being hygienic is smart for everyone. It is critical when you are living with someone who has a contagious disease.