Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
During cold and flu season, the runny noses and coughs feel endless. How long is that cough contagious? And once your little one is fever-free, how long before you can go to indoor play spaces again?
As a parent, it is tough to be trapped inside with sick little ones, especially when the temps are cooler, and you feel stir crazy. If you work outside the home, juggling sick days and using paid time off to care for sick kiddos is also challenging.
Here’s the scoop on three common illnesses if you’re wondering how long you are contagious after getting sick, along with some general advice for how long to stay home.
How Long Are You Contagious After Getting the Flu
There are several different variations of influenza. If you or your child are diagnosed with the flu, you’ll likely experience a fever, cough, body aches, and congestion, among other possible symptoms.
Fortunately, flu shots are available annually to help prevent the flu. Most babies six months and older, children, and adults are eligible for a flu vaccine, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a poke. For kids who are afraid of needles, your healthcare provider may be able to offer the intranasal version of the flu vaccine, which is a nasal spray.
However, while the flu shot may help prevent the flu entirely, sometimes it just lessens the severity of the symptoms.
If you are sick with the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that you are most contagious during the first three to four days after your symptoms start. Additionally, some may be contagious a day before any symptoms start. And some kids and those who are immunocompromised could infect others for longer than just a few days.
A flu shot is your best first-line defense against catching influenza. However, if you find yourself sick or your child comes down with the flu, follow your school or childcare providers guidelines for when they can return.
If your child is not in a school or childcare setting and has a confirmed case of the flu, the CDC recommends staying home for 4-5 days after symptoms onset. This initial period is when they are likely the most contagious after getting sick.
How Long Are You Contagious After Getting COVID-19
Symptoms of COVID-19 can mimic the flu. However, there may be a longer period of contagiousness after getting sick for those who have COVID-19. Fortunately, you can test for COVID-19 at home, and there are also vaccines available for children and adults to help prevent illness.
If you do test positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends that for asymptomatic or mild cases that you stay home at least five days after the symptoms start or you test positive — whichever is first. Once the five day period is over, the CDC recommends wearing a mask through day 10.
For those who have moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, the CDC recommends isolating for at least ten days. And for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, isolate for at least twenty days.
How Long Are You Contagious After Getting Norovirus
Influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory bugs. Norovirus is a common stomach bug. Notorious for spreading easily and quickly, it comes on fast and furious.
Per the CDC, when someone is sick with norovirus, they shed billions of microscopic norovirus particles every time they throw up or poop. It only takes a few of those particles to make you sick.
One of the challenging aspects of norovirus is that while you are the most contagious while you are actively sick, you are also quite contagious for the first few days that you begin to feel better. Additionally, some studies demonstrate that you can continue spreading the virus for weeks after feeling better.
It can be challenging to prevent, too, as hand sanitizer doesn’t work well against norovirus. The best method of prevention with norovirus is to clean and disinfect surfaces regularly, ideally with a household bleach solution or other EPA-registered norovirus disinfectant, and to wash your hands well.
Looking for more tips on caring for sick kids? You’ll find these helpful:
- How To Handle Breastfeeding When Sick
- Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick
- Work From Home Tips For Parents With A Sick Kid
- How To Tell If Your Baby Is Sick Or Teething
- How to Keep Your Newborn Healthy When You Have a Sick Child or Parent at Home
General Guidelines for Staying Home When Sick
Influenza, COVID-19, and norovirus are three common bugs out of several. RSV, enteroviruses, and countless other bugs regularly circulate. Contagiousness after getting sick will vary with each virus or infection.
Generally, according to the CDC, individuals should stay home at least 24 hours after their fever goes away without the use of fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ideally, it is also recommended to stay home for 4-5 days after symptoms start. However, this can lead to several days off if you account for personal sick time and time off from daycare and school.
School districts, daycare centers, and workplaces typically have policies regarding illness and time off. It’s a good idea to be aware of these policies before you get sick, so you know what to expect.
While days home with a sick little one may feel long, they’re a great time to put on a good movie, snuggle up, and try to enjoy the time. Although taking care of sick kids is hard work, it’s an opportunity to soak in all the snuggles with an otherwise on-the-go child.
Keep in mind that most illnesses will resolve on their own at home. However, always reach out to a healthcare provider for advice if you are concerned.
Make sure you have a basic first aid kit stored high and out of reach with illness essentials, too. Know your child’s dose of fever-reducing medications ahead of time and stay stocked up on snot-busting solutions like saline drops, soothing nose wipes, and the NozeBot.
Before you know it, you and your little one will be feeling better in no time!
A clear nose means better sleep.
The Nozebot is a battery-powered suction device designed to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.