How Long You Should Stay Home With the Flu

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When you get sick with the flu (influenza), you probably won't feel like doing much of anything. But as the days go on and your symptoms improve, you may wonder just how long need to stay home. Whether it's because you are concerned about spreading the illness to others or want to give yourself the best shot at recovering completely, it's important to know how long you need to get better and how long you are contagious.

Don’t Take the Flu Lightly

The fact that the flu is common doesn't mean it's nothing to worry about. While some may weather it without incident, it is dangerous and can be deadly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the 2017 to 2018 season "was the first season to be classified as a high severity across all age groups" and "the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza was at or above the epidemic threshold for 16 consecutive weeks."

The CDC is not notified of all flu-related deaths, but estimates put cases in the tens of thousands.

Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems have the highest risk for flu complications. Of course, anyone, regardless of health status, can suffer from flu complications, such as dehydration, bacterial pneumonia, and sinus and ear infections. And because the flu can be a serious illness, it is a good idea for anyone who gets the flu to stay home and focus on getting better for their own health and health of others. 

Recovery Time

Most people who get the flu recover in less than two weeks after being exposed to a viral infection. The first signs of the flu are fever and chills, which will come on suddenly within the first day to four days. Headache, sore throat, runny nose, cough, fatigue, and muscle aches will follow. As the flu worsens, you may have warm, flushed skin, watery eyes, congestion, and cough with phlegm (mucus). Nausea and vomiting are also possible, especially in children. 

You may experience the worst symptoms in the first few days. Weakness, fatigue, and cough may linger for at least another week. Within a week or two, you should start to feel better, and by the end of the first week, your fever should have subsided. If you are still experiencing severe symptoms after 10 days, there is a chance you may have developed a secondary infection or complication. 

Staying home until you are fever-free and have enough energy to complete your daily tasks is essential for a complete recovery.

Do your best to take care of yourself until you feel better and most of your symptoms have resolved before you return to work or school or go out into the community.

Period of Contagiousness

If you get the flu, you are contagious from one day before symptoms appear to five to seven days after. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer than seven days.

Because you are more likely to spread the flu when you have a fever, the CDC recommend you stay home and away from other people for as long as you have a fever and for 24 hours after your fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications. If your fever goes down after you take a fever-reducer, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), but then comes back when the medication wears off, you are still contagious. 

Parental Advisement

According the CDC, children 18 or under who have flu should not be given aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) as it may cause a potentially life-threatening complication known as Reye's syndrome

Returning to Work or School

You may want to get back to work and your daily routine as soon as possible, but that may be the best idea. The length of illness varies for each person. The young and healthy may bounce back quickly, but flu symptoms may linger and take up to two weeks to completely go away in others.

Even if you are generally healthy, you should stay home until the contagious period has passed so you avoid spreading germs to other people. Don’t go back to your daily routine until you feel you have the energy to do so. If you have health problems or are older than age 65, you may need more time to recover before returning to your regular routine.  

A Word From Verywell

If you develop flu complications, you will be sick for longer than a week or two, depending on how severe the complications are, how quickly you get treatment, and how you respond to it. You should seek immediate medical attention for problems breathing, chest pain, confusion, and seizures. Call your doctor about ongoing weakness and fatigue, high, persistent fevers (103 degrees F or higher), and flu symptoms that linger for more than two weeks. 

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