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When Is It Safe to Go Back to Work After the Flu?

Woman leaving her house
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH - Blogs
By Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistFebruary 14, 2020

The flu is fierce. It can feel like dominoes falling at your home. One person goes down, and then the next one is sick.

You minimize the flu spreading in your family by keeping the sick one quarantined within the home. In my house that means they stay out of the kitchen, use only one bathroom, and stick to their side of the couch.

But as you all begin to recover, another round of questions come up: When can you get out of the house and be social if you just had the flu or were taking care of someone with the flu? When can you return to work or send your kids to school without worrying about getting others sick?

For those in the house who had the flu, here are questions to ask:

  • Have you gone 24 hours without a fever and without taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen or other similar medicine? If yes, you are most likely not contagious anymore. This is a good sign your body is finally on the mend!
  • Are you coughing or sneezing? The influenza virus primarily spreads from person to person through droplets in the air. The best way to protect others is to stay home until your symptoms have improved more.
  • Do you still feel sick? This can be a tough question because the flu can wipe you out, but if you don’t feel like you’re clearly better, take another day to rest and recuperate.

For those in the house exposed to the flu who are healthy and got their flu shot, there’s not much extra for you to do. You can be contagious before you feel sick, so keep up the hand washing. That will protect you and others around you.  Also, use common sense – don’t hold a baby and skip the hugs.

If you do start to come down with the flu, call your doctor to get a treatment plan together. If you have medical issues, and you were exposed to the flu, call before you get sick. Then, go rest and take care of yourself.

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About the Author
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a WebMD Medical Editor. She is on the team that makes sure all WebMD content is medically correct, current and understandable. She sees patients at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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