Been sick. How do you know you are well?

How do you know that you are well enough to return to work or school after suffering with that debilitating flu, nagging cold, or painful strep throat?  Here are a few guidelines for some common contagious illnesses to help prevent spreading your illness to others.

Strep Throat
Strep Throat is a bacterial infection that is easily passed from one person to another via droplets spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  In general, you are well enough to go out in public once you are on antibiotics and are fever free for 24 hours.  If you are not better in 48 hours you need to contact your health care provider.

Flu
Flu is a highly contagious virus that causes high fever, muscle aches, chills, cough, sore throat, and generally makes you feel terrible.  You can be contagious before symptoms even start and remain contagious until you are fever free for 24 hours.

Pink Eye
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) can be a bacterial or viral infection that causes itchy, red, painful eyes and can be spread very easily.  Typically you can return to your normal activities when symptoms begin to improve, which can take between 3 to 5 days or within 24 hours of starting antibiotics for bacterial infections.

Colds
Common colds are usually viral infections spread through droplets dispersed when a person coughs, sneezes, or blows their nose.  Since a cold is a more mild illness, you do not need to take significant time off work or school.  However, make sure to use good hygiene, so you minimize the risk of sharing the virus with coworkers or peers.

Stomach Flu
Stomach flu can be viral infection that causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping.  It is highly contagious. You can get it by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus or sharing eating utensils with infected people. Typically, you are contagious from the moment you begin feeling sick until at least 3 days after you recover.  But, some people may be contagious for even longer.  People with this viral illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

As always, if you are sick and must be around other people, be sure to practice good hygiene including, but not limited to, sneezing or coughing into your elbow, washing your hands frequently, properly disposing of tissues, not sharing drinks, utensils, cups etc.  Also, it is always a good idea to always ask your physician when you can go back to work or school.  Depending on your specific illness and circumstances, the answers can vary.  Additionally, The Center for Disease Control is an excellent resource for questions about specific illnesses. 

Dr. Swapna Chenna is a primary care practitioner with Wake Specialty Physicians – Morrisville Primary Care.  The practice cares for patients two months old and up and is currently accepting new patients.

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