Flu sufferers can be contagious the day before they
start showing signs of the virus.
You’re generally most infectious during the first two
to three days of the illness.
Experts say you can head back to work or school when
you’ve been fever-free for a full 24 hours.
Flu experts agree that this
season is shaping up to be nasty in the US. In California
alone, 27 people under the age of 65 have died from the flu,
and 26 states (plus New York City) are now reporting high flu
More fever-sufferers, coughers, sneezers, and generally miserable
people are heading to hospitals to be
diagnosed with the flu and get prescription drugs that
can help the illness end faster.
But not everyone needs to see a doctor. Many flu-ridden people
can stay home and wait out the symptoms with the help of liquids,
over-the-counter drugs, and a lot of sleep. But that begs the
question: How do you know when it’s safe to head back into the
office or return to school?
Scientists who study the virus say influenza can incubate in the
body for one to four days before you show any signs of getting
sick. That means you can be contagious the day before you start
feeling terrible, and have no idea that you’re spreading the
virus to your colleagues, as the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention points out.
James Steckelberg, a doctor and infectious disease expert at the
Mayo Clinic, told Business Insider that it can be tough to dole
out concrete advice for how long to stay home, since everybody
reacts a little differently to the flu.
But his advice jibes with the CDC’s: Wait
until you’ve been fever-free (without the help of drugs) for 24
hours before heading back into the office or school. That means
no more chills, sweats, or flushed appearance.
Other research suggests the first few days of the sickness are
the most dangerous. A 2008
study in Hong Kong showed that most “viral shedding” (that’s
when you’re really passing the germs around) with influenza
occurs in the first two to three days after you get sick. Kids
can often be contagious for more than seven days.
People typically suffer from the flu for for about a week (5-7
days), but some can stay sick for up to two weeks. Researchers
two tends to be the worst when it comes to symptoms, but
that can vary.
Anyone within a six foot radius can give you their flu,
especially if that person is coughing, sneezing, or talking,
according to the CDC. That kind of person-to-person transmission
is more likely to cause an infection than simply touching a
surface with some flu virus on it then reaching for your nose or
your mouth. But it’s still important to
wash your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your face
with your hands. Handwashing and facemasks can
also be effective barriers to illness if someone you live with
catches the flu.
The flu vaccine is not as effective this year as it has been
in the past, but it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated because
the shot is very effective at preventing certain strains. Flu
season can last into May, so if you haven’t gotten your dose yet,
it’s not too late.