In times of cold and flu, doctors advise to stay home so that you don’t spread the flu making others sick as well. But with the busy life schedules, it is not always possible to stay home for a week or more. So, how long is the flu contagious? This is a question we ask the doctors every time the reports say flu.
In this blog, we have gathered all the information about flu, its symptoms, cure and how long you will be contagious.
How long is the flu contagious?
Before we talk about how long your flu can be contagious, let us know more about the influenza virus and symptoms of flu.
What are the symptoms of flu?
Very often, we get confused between cold and flu as both the conditions have similar symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate. The typical symptoms of flu include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body or muscle aches and pains
The most significant factor to control spreading viral infections is developing healthful habits during flu and cold season.
Eat healthy diet, drink plenty water and get enough rest to get well soon. These easy practices can help controlling the above mentioned symptoms within the shortest period of time possible.
How to prevent it from spreading?
When you start noticing any of the mentioned symptoms, a few cautious steps can help handling the viral infection:
- Cover your mouth while coughing: When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose using a kerchief or tissue (keep these handy). Your mucus or saliva consists of viruses that increase the risk of spreading flu.
- Get rid of used tissue immediately: If you are using a tissue to cover and wipe your mouth and nose, dump those immediately once used. Try using a new tissue each time as it reduces contact with virus and keeps your hand clean.
- Wash at frequent intervals: To ensure you don’t spread the flu virus, keep washing your hands, mouth and nose at frequent intervals. If possible, try not coming in direct contact with other people or common items (the ones other family members also use) such as door handles, telephone, etc.
In case of complicated symptoms which gets difficult to handle, people choose staying home from school, college or work, opting out of any social activity. This also helps in prevention of spreading the illness.
But, how long can you stay home and how long will the flu be contagious?
Keep reading to get your answers.
How long is the flu contagious?
The symptoms of flu usually last for around 10 days depending on every individual. You can possibly spread the virus even a day before the symptoms start showing up and continue spreading for a week after falling sick.
The influenza or flu virus is a contagious respiratory virus that can spread to people of any ages, both kids and adults. Its severity depends on the person infected with the flu. The symptoms of influenza infection can be mild in a few people and can also range to life-threatening in some people who are at other health risks, mainly in older adults.
The spreading of flu involves a process called viral shedding. On finishing a replication cycle in a cell, the virus releases new viruses. Now, the new viruses tend to infect other cells and your body expels the virus transmitting to others. The viruses leave your body in different ways – either by mixing with the saliva or mucus. These infecting elements find a way into the environment through sneezing and coughing.
In a study of The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, it was found that children have prolonged period of viral shedding before the symptoms show up in comparison to that in adults. The study also inferred that children below 5 years of age have the longest viral shedding after the symptoms show up. So, it is advised they stay at home for around 7-10 days.
There is a difference between cold and flu in terms of symptoms – flu symptoms being severe than that of cold. Its effect is seen in the entire body whereas cold only affects the upper airway. Like various other viruses, flu viruses keep changing and evolving. You can say that it is rare scenario that your body deals with a flu virus twice. There is a possibility that you might contract the flu almost each year.
How do you spread the flu?
In most cases, the flu virus spreads through minute droplets in the air. When you cough or sneeze, the virus leaves your body in form of small drops of moisture. The minute droplets have the ability to travel almost 6ft. A person gets exposed to the virus when you breathe the droplets or if it accidentally lands in your eyes, nose or mouth. You might also come in contact with the flu virus by touching the place of its landing, like doorknob, counter or desk and touch your face. It might be surprising to believe but the contagious viruses stay on surfaces for more than 48 hours.
How to know if it is a flu or cold?
As aforesaid, there are some differences between the symptoms of cold and flu that help distinguish between them. However, the early symptoms of both the illness are quite similar such as runny nose, cough and tiredness. If you remember coming in contact with anyone suffering from cold or flu since a few days, you can probably get infected.
The difference between flu and cold is seen in the symptoms of flu being intense such as fever, chills, body aches and headaches. Sometimes it also causes vomiting and nausea. In comparison to flu symptoms, cold symptoms are milder and don’t generally require medical care. In case of prolonged symptoms, we would suggest seeing a doctor.
How can you know if the cold or flu is gone?
As said, cold doesn’t require medical intervention and the symptoms are reduced in around 3-4 days, sometimes a week. You might have cough for a little long but it is not contagious any more. In case of flu, the symptoms are severe and require medical attention after a certain period of time. If the conditions are severe and doesn’t get under control, an individual might also need to get hospitalized. The person is kept under medication until the symptoms resolve.
Now that we have talked about the conditions of cold and normal flu, let us throw some light on stomach flu. It is not caused by the usual flu viruses. Stomach flu is a non-specific term describing symptoms of vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. These symptoms might also be noticed in flu but, it still remains to be a respiratory infection. In many individuals, stomach flu is the result of non-flu kind of viruses. In the same way, cold sores are a result of herpes viruses and not cold viruses.
What are the home remedies and significant treatment for flu?
If you are ill, drinking plenty of water (liquids like juices are also healthy) and rest is important. You can get over-the-counter medication to get relief from fever and body pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In most cases, this works well reducing the symptoms in a couple of days.
Take a few days off from work, school or college and rest at home. If you are a busy person, try getting at least 24 hours of rest at home until the fever is under control.
For a severe condition, your physician might prescribe some antiviral medication that reduces the duration of your sickness and prevents further complications. However, it won’t kill the flu viruses.
Antiviral medication works efficiently when taken within 2 days of the onset of flu symptoms. Some of the common prescriptions of antiviral medication:
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Peramivir (Rapivab)
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
An approved medication called Xofluza or baloxavir marboxil was introduced by U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in October, 2018. The flu vaccine can also prevent the infection from taking place, let alone reducing it. Taking the vaccine won’t even give you flu.
When should you seek medical help?
Generally, the symptoms of flu reduce over a week’s time. However, there can be serious complications in kids or adults already having certain health risks. Here are a few conditions that suggest you need to seek medical help.
- shortness of breath or struggling to breathe
- pain or pressure in abdomen or chest
- sudden dizziness
- improving symptoms that suddenly worsen
For children and infants
- fast breathing or breathing quickly
- not drinking sufficient fluids
- not being able to eat
- feeling sleepy and not getting up from the bed
- not wanting to be held and not interacting
- skin turning blue in color
- fever along with rashes
- less wet diapers than normally
- improving symptoms that suddenly worsen
Do some strains of the influenza virus last longer than other strains?
Even though the strains of influenza strains do not affect the duration of your flu, but there are some strains and subtypes of influenza A, such as H3N2, which can lead to severe illness than other strains.
As per the reports of CDC, H3N3 or influenza A viruses are associated with more cases of hospitalizations and even deaths in children and older adults. The numbers are a lot more than various other influenza strains or subtypes like influenza B and influenza A (H1N1).
Moreover, the vaccine’s effectiveness for influenza A (H3N2) viruses has always been lower.
Flu Vs. Cold Duration
Despite having some similar symptoms, the flu and colds are two distinct illnesses. Generally colds are milder than the flu. Cold symptoms are resolved within 7-10 days and don’t come back very fast as compared to flu. Its symptoms generally last for two weeks.
When can you return back to work?
Here are some tips from two medical experts that will help you decide when to return to work after flu:
- You don’t have fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medications.
- You don’t have diarrhea and vomiting issues for minimum of 24 hours.
- No problem of sneezing or coughing for at least 24 hours.
- So, if you are ill on a Sunday but the symptoms don’t show up till evening, you can go back to work by Tuesday.
- In case there is an urgent need to go to work, you can take pills prescribed by the doctor.
Check your energy
Another way to understand your flu symptoms and decide whether or not it is time to return to work is to check your energy. So, check your severity levels and energy symptoms. If you feel 90% of your energy is back and the flu symptoms are considerably reduced by 75%, you can definitely up for work.
But, if you are not even able to leave your bed and have bad cough and other flu symptoms , you should not leave for work until things get better.
Doctors suggest you should not push yourself to work, as if you do, it will only delay the healing process. Moreover, you will perform poorly and there’s a risk of the infection spreading across your workplace. So along with you, you will be taking down a couple of your colleagues off from work.
What are the tips to follow when you return to work after flu?
When you return to work after the flu, keep in mind:
- To wash your hands regularly and the surrounding surfaces sanitized like the computer keywords, receivers and telephone handsets.
- To stay away from your co-workers, especially the ones with weakened immune systems
- If you still have sneezing or coughing, do wear a medical mask preventing the virus from spreading
- Use a tissue while coughing or sneezing or just sneeze into your elbow. It will help you prevent the droplets from spreading.
- Relax at your work place, allowing your body to recover completely and stay way from any relapse of the illness.
In a nutshell
When suffering from flu, you must take care of a lot of things to keep away the virus from spreading. You should only get back to your normal life after complete recovery from the illness. We hope now you know how long is the flu contagious and how can you recover from it faster.