Good for you—you stayed home when you weren’t feeling well and your colleagues thank you for it. But how do you know when it’s safe to go back to work or school without bringing your cold or flu with you?
First things first: Do you have a cold or the flu?
Common flu symptoms include cough, fever, aches, and fatigue and flu symptoms usually come on faster than cold symptoms.
Cold symptoms are more likely to come on gradually and usually include cough, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat. Colds usually don’t cause a fever in adults.
Read: Is It a Cold or the Flu?
When can I go back to work or school?
Staying home and resting when you’re sick is an important part of both getting better and preventing further spread of illness. You should avoid going back to work or school until you’re no longer contagious.
The contagious period for the flu can last as long as 5-7 days from when you first felt sick.
The contagious period for the flu begins about 1 day before symptoms start and can last as long as 5-7 days from when you first felt sick.
You’re generally contagious with a cold 1-2 days before your symptoms start, and you could be contagious as long as your symptoms are present—in rare cases, up to 2 weeks.
An ounce of prevention
Both the flu and a cold are generally spread through the air, by close contact, or contaminated surfaces. So how do you protect your loved ones when you’re dutifully staying home sick in a home you share with others?
Dr. Jonathan Grein, Cedars-Sinai’s director of hospital epidemiology, suggests taking extra precautions to protect your family at home. To help prevent the spread of illness, it is important to wash your hands, eating utensils, and linens frequently and thoroughly. You should also avoid touching doorknobs directly and wear a face mask if you’re coughing or sneezing.
Dr. Grein also recommends covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, cleaning your hands often with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand rub, and avoiding touching your face as much as possible.