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Have a Cold? You Could Be Contagious for Longer Than You Think

Wondering how long you need to be in quarantine to keep from spreading your cold? According to an article in the New York Times, it could take about three days from the time you start having cold symptoms until you’re not contagious; and if you have the flu, it could take a week. But the research shows it’s not that simple. Understanding the various stages of these illnesses could help you figure out when you’re likely to be in the clear:

  • Incubation. This phase lasts for about a day when you have the flu and for as little as a few hours when you have a cold. The incubation period is a tricky one because you’re contagious even though you aren’t showing symptoms yet.
  • Symptomatic/infectious. During this period, you’re contagious and obviously sick: sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, and a runny nose are typical in this stage. Studies in healthy adults suggest viral shedding (a mark of contagiousness) peaks one to two days after viral incubation. The most acute symptoms—and greatest amount of viral shedding—are generally over after three days with a cold and five days with the flu.
  • Recovery. For most of us, recovery begins and symptoms subside about a week following incubation. However, lingering symptoms like cough and fatigue may persist, and while your contagiousness is reduced, a small amount of viral shedding may go on for as long as three weeks.

The best advice to avoid spreading your cold or flu? Stay home while you’re in the most contagious part of your illness, and after that, wash your hands after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.

Source: New York Times

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