The 2018 flu season is no joke: the Center for Disease Control has said that it's "the most widespread on record" since officials began keeping track of it 13 years ago. So far in 2018 — note, we're not even a month into the year — the flu has caused the about 40 deaths in the United States so far. Almost 10,000 people have been hospitalized since the season began on Oct. 1. And, unfortunately, the CDC has said the season hasn't even hit its peak — so it's not going anywhere any time soon. Not to be an alarmist, but the chances you're going to get the flu are increasing, which means you need to know everything about it, whether you got the flu shot or not. You need to know the differences between the flu and a cold, how it can kill you, and how long you're contagious for when you have the flu.
That last one should be essential knowledge for everyone. People who have been diagnosed with the flu have to know how long they'll be contagious for so that they don't assume they can head out and go to work, infecting people around them, the second they start feeling better. Those who know people with the flu should also be armed with this knowledge to protect themselves adequately. After all, many people assume that the moment they start taking prescription medication, they stop being contagious - or that feeling a little bit better means they're out of the woods. These assumptions are often untrue.
So, how long is the flu contagious? According to the CDC, that can vary depending on the age and health of the person infected. The scariest fact out there is that you might be contagious and able to pass on the flu before you even realize you're sick. Healthy adults can become contagious 24 hours before their symptoms develop. Once they're sick, they'll be contagious for about five to seven days — but young children and people with weakened immune systems could stay contagious for longer than that.
You're the most contagious when you first get sick, and then the following two to three days. As you start to feel better, you will get less contagious — but you're certainly not out of the woods just yet. That five to seven day period is the standard, but remember: you could be contagious for up to 10 days afterwards. Your best bet is to assume the worst and be extra careful for up to 10 days after first experiencing symptoms. Does that mean you need to stay in for 10 days? The official recommendation from the CDC is to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
Here's what this means if you get sick with the flu: stay home! Seriously, do not go out. Don't try to soldier through this illness, because it's not worth it. You'll either end up passing it along to others, or making yourself even more sick, possibly even putting yourself at risk for death or serious complications. Take the medication prescribed by your doctor, which will help keep flu viruses from reproducing inside of you.
Sure, this might sound dramatic, but it's really not. One of the main reasons the flu gets spread so quickly and easily is because it becomes contagious when people don't even know they're sick. The other reason is because so many people try to ignore it.
As for those who don't have the flu but are nervous about the possibility of getting it, keep this info in the back of your head when you're in public spaces: Wash your hands often and stay away from those who seem to be sick. The best thing you can do, according to the CDC, is get the flu shot, which will decrease your chances of getting the flu or make it less severe if you do get it.
Stay safe out there everyone! This is a long, brutal flu season, and knowing the facts is more than worth it.