How Long Should You Stay Home From Work When You Have The Flu? A Lot Of People Head Back Far Too Soon

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One of the hottest viral trends is this great flu season we have going on. While the severity of each flu season is hard to predict, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency recommends getting your flu shot and taking the virus seriously — even if it gets in the way of work. In fact, chances are if you have the flu, you should stay home from work longer than you think.

"In all seriousness, if you want to be 100% safe stay out of work for a full week," Dr. James Wantuck, MD, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of leading virtual health platform PlushCare tells Bustle. That being said, when you're sneezing up a storm, it can be hard to relax when you're worried about your next paycheck. "For most people this is not practical," Dr. Wantuck acknowledges, "and I might recommend going back in once your fever is gone and your cough and mucous production are manageable." He also suggests wearing a mask to protect the people around you.

Similarly, the CDC says you should stay home from work for at least 24 hours after your fever goes away. That's right — not after you just "feel better," but when the fever is actually broken and you're no longer taking fever reducing medicine. It's worth noting, as the CDC points out, that you can have the flu and not have a fever. In that case, you should stay home a minimum of four days after you started noticing flu symptoms.

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Unfortunately, you can spread the flu before you even know you have it. "In otherwise healthy adults, you are infectious from 1 to 2 days before you have symptoms all the way to one week later," Dr. Wantuck explains. "The peak in infectiousness is on the first day of symptoms and declines rapidly after that."

It's hard to stay in when you're sick, but you should absolutely give your body the time it needs to recuperate — for your own sake and everyone else's. According to CBS, in a survey of 1,800 American adults, 75% of people ages 18 to 34 admitted to venturing out while sick, compared to only 56% of the older demographic. This, unfortunately, puts not only yourself at risk, but everyone you come into contact with.

So how long will it take you to get over the flu, then? According to Web MD, how quickly you recover from the flu depends on how healthy you are, so hopefully you've been getting plenty of sleep and respecting your body's signals even before the flu hit. In general, healthy people should get over a cold completely in seven to 10 days. Flu symptoms, meanwhile, should completely go away after about five days, but it's actually pretty common to feel weak a few days longer. Just don't strain yourself, or you'll be in off-on recovery mode for far longer than you anticipated. If your symptoms persist and it's been one to two weeks, let your doctor know.

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The scary sitch is if your health is already compromised, these viruses can develop into high risk illnesses that are much worse than the flu, like pneumonia or inflammation. And you're not the only one at risk — even if you feel up to going to work, you're still possibly spreading the flu not just to your healthier friends and coworkers, but to people it may hit a lot harder, like the young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with preexisting conditions that weaken their immune systems.

Ultimately, the flu is no small matter; during the 2018-2019 flu season, 42.9 million people got sick and at least 36,400 died, according to CDC estimates. So when in doubt, stay home — not just for your own health, but everyone else's, too. And if you're worried about how your manager will react, Dr. Wantuck says having a doctor's note can be helpful. On top of that, he explains, you can respectfully clarify that the "real reason you are staying home is to protect them (and their family)."

Experts:

Dr. James Wantuck, MD, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of leading virtual health platform PlushCare

Studies referenced:

Xu X, Blanton L, Elal AI, et al. Update: Influenza Activity in the United States During the 2018–19 Season and Composition of the 2019–20 Influenza Vaccine. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:544–551. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6824a3external icon.

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