Flu, Bronchitis, Pneumonia: How Long Are You Contagious?

How to avoid spreading these common viruses

You’re sick and feeling cruddy. To avoid sharing the misery with those around you, follow general guidelines for healthy adults from family medicine physician Matthew J. Goldman, MD:

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When to see the doctor + other tips

“Speak to your medical provider about your risk and how long to stay home,” advises Dr. Goldman. “It will vary based on your immune response, age, prior exposure, underlying illness, exposure to smoke, and virus type.”

Here, he shares a few pointers on contagious illnesses:

  • Rest is best for flu and colds. Treatment is available if you have the flu or have been exposed to flu. Ask your provider about options. Colds typically have no treatment.
  • Most sore throats aren’t Strep. They’re usually viral. But Strep and viral sore throats can occur together. A throat swab will test for Strep and determine the need for antibiotics, which can help you avoid complications.
  • Bronchitis is extremely common. It’s one of the most common illnesses that providers see. Typically viral, bronchitis peaks in late fall and winter, along with other respiratory infections.
  • Pneumonia is not seasonal. This respiratory infection occurs year-round because the lungs are constantly exposed to particulates and microbes.
  • Norovirus is highly contagious. It’s the most common cause of stomach virus, which occurs all year but peaks in fall and winter. Outbreaks can develop.

How to protect the vulnerable

When you’re ill, it’s wise to avoid people with weaker immune systems. “Before you visit someone in the hospital or a nursing facility, check with their provider, wear a mask and wash your hands,” says Dr. Goldman.

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