Here's How Your Family Can Avoid Sharing a Cold or the Flu

Avoid Sharing a Cold or the Flu

You have sick kids, and even though you love spending time with them, you can’t take off work to be home with them for days on end. After a day or two you may even be wondering if it’s okay to send them back to school, runny noses and all. Perhaps, you’ve even wondered if you should stay home from work after they start antibiotics.

Understanding common types of sickness and how long you’re contagious will help you decide if you should stay home another day or get back to life as scheduled.

How long are you contagious? 

An easy guide to your decision to stay home or not is to know the type of infection you have. Do you have strep throat? The flu? A cold? A stomach bug? Each type of infection has a different contagion period.

For example:

  • With a cold, you can be contagious before symptoms even start and remain contagious for up to two weeks after you were initially exposed to the virus
  • You can spread the flu virus a day before symptoms start and could be contagious for 5-7 days after your symptoms began
  • If it’s strep throat, you’re no longer contagious within 24 hours of taking antibiotics

In the first two examples, antibiotics won’t likely be prescribed because you’re dealing with a virus. When in doubt, ask your doctor how long your specific illness will remain contagious. Most clinics welcome a simple phone call if you don’t feel like you need to see a doctor.

How bacteria and viruses are spread

Different types of infections are spread in different ways. For example, sneezing into your coworker’s face is a good way to spread the flu. Whereas, most cold viruses are spread from hand to hand, such as when you wipe your nose, then shake someone’s hand.

Depending on the strength of a virus, it may survive on objects like phones, doorknobs, or pens. You can catch the virus when you handle one of these objects, then touch your mouth or nose.

Bacterial illnesses that require antibiotics don’t move through the air as easily as a virus, which makes them more difficult to catch. You can be contagious with a bacterial illness for much longer than with a viral illness.

How do you feel?

Regardless of whether or not you’re contagious, if you don’t feel well, you should probably stay home. Things like a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness, head and body aches, the chills, diarrhea, and vomiting can be clear indicators you’re unwell and should stay home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you should also stay home for at least 24 hours after all signs of a fever have gone away. By staying home, you’re giving yourself (or your kids) a chance to heal. You’re also helping to prevent spreading the illness.

Preventing infection

The difficult thing about most illnesses is that you can be contagious before you even feel sick. Which means even if your child just has a minor sore throat, they may already be contagious. Because of this, it’s important to pay attention to things you can do to stop germs from spreading around your home.

Encourage your children and co-workers to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly. Also, cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, not your hands. You should also regularly wipe down everyday items that might come into contact with many people. When someone you know does get sick, limit contact until they’re past the contagious stage.

It’s stressful to use up all of your sick days when you have sick kids. But keeping your kids (and yourself) home when you’re contagious will help you avoid spreading infection. It’ll also help them get feeling better. Because it’s hard to know exactly when you’re contagious, you should always do your best to always prevent infection and stay home when you don’t feel well.