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Flu, Cold, Stomach Bug – When Am I Not Contagious?

Big plans for the holidays, but a cold, flu, or stomach virus got you down? Find out when it is safe to join the party, and if you just can’t stay away, find out how to reduce your chances of sharing your illness with others.

man-blowing-nose-illustrationFlu & Cold

Symptoms:

  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Sore Throat
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Body Aches
  • Headache
  • Fever (low-grade for colds) (over 100 degrees for flu)
  • General Malaise

How Long Am I Contagious?

Flu and colds may be contagious a day before and up to a week after symptom onset. 

How Can I Avoid Getting Others Sick?

Flu and cold viruses are spread through droplets. This means that small amounts of the virus need to enter a person’s nose, mouth or even eyes.  The virus can ride on food and drink, live on contaminated surfaces or be spread through droplets expelled when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks.

The best way to keep your friends and loved ones well is to avoid contact for a week.  This can be particularly difficult during the holidays.  If you are not able to avoid contact, here are some tips to avoid sharing your cold or the flu:

  1. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap.
  2. Use hand sanitizing gel if you are not able to wash your hands.
  3. Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow to try to limit the number of viral particles dispersed through the air.
  4. Use a tissue only once and then discard it into the trash can and wash your hands each time.
  5. Try to avoid contact with food others will be eating. In other words, do not prepare food and if dinner is a buffet, have a well person serve your plate for you.
  6. Try to avoid direct contact with other people.  Try not to kiss, hug, snuggle, shake hands or touch anyone.

sick-girlStomach Flu

Symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Throwing Up
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach and Intestinal Cramping
  • Headache
  • Body Aches
  • Dehydration

How Long Am I Contagious?

If you have a viral stomach bug, it will likely hit you hard and move on quickly.  These viruses are highly contagious and an individual can carry the virus and be contagious for up to three days after symptoms disappear.

How Can I Avoid Sharing the Stomach Flu With Others?

Like flu and cold viruses, viral stomach bugs are spread when the virus enters the mouth of a well person.  The virus is generally spread when an individual eats contaminated food, drinks contaminated drink or touches a contaminated surface and then puts their hands or fingers into their mouth.

The best way to avoid sharing the illness is to avoid contact with others for several days after symptoms have disappeared (you should absolutely avoid contact with other people and their food while you are still having symptoms!).  If that is not possible, here are some tips to avoid sharing the stomach virus with others (you may recognize some of these tips from above):

#1 – Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap.

#2 – Try to avoid contact with food others will be eating.

  • In other words, do not prepare food and if dinner is a buffet, have a well person serve your plate for you.

#3 – Try to avoid direct contact with other people.

  • Try not to kiss, hug, snuggle, shake hands or touch other people.

#4 – If people are visiting your house, clean your bathroom very, very well using bleach. 

  • Use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water. This includes high-touch areas like the toilet, sink, light switch and door handles.
  • Note that Clorox wipes do not contain bleach and may not be able to kill the virus that caused your intestinal illness.
  • Make sure your guests do not use the same hand towel you’ve been using.
  • Finally, clean other areas outside your bathroom that you may have touched frequently, including remote controls, cell phones, doorknobs, and light switches.

People with Compromised Immune Systems

Take into account if there are going to be people who are very young, very old, or who have problems with their immune systems at the gathering.  Illnesses in these populations can be more serious so working to keep them well is even more important.

Are your symptoms lasting longer than expected? Did you start feeling better and then started feeling worse? Are your symptoms so severe that over-the-counter medications are just not cutting it?  WakeMed Physician Practices – Primary Care and Urgent Care are here for you.  Come see us today.


About Jessica Dixon

Jessica Dixon is an Infection Prevention Specialist with WakeMed Health & Hospitals. She spends her working life trying to identify communicable diseases and keep visitors and staff well.

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