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Keeping Colds and Other Contagious Infections Contained

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Be Aware! Know What Bad Bugs Lurk Out There continued...

For more information, see WebMD's Sore Throat: Cold, Strep Throat or Tonsillitis?

Flu. The influenza virus often spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can include a runny nose, cough, fever, chills, and body aches. The infection is contagious about one day before symptoms appear until five days after. In some instances, flu can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. The best prevention is a flu shot. If you have flu symptoms, your doctor may want to prescribe medications to help shorten the duration.

Chickenpox. If you didn't have chickenpox as a child and haven't been vaccinated, you could get it from caring for a sick child. The disease is most contagious from two to three days before symptoms appear until the blisters have crusted over. It's spread through the virus coming in contact with the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth, through sneezing and coughing, and sometimes through exposure to the fluid from the blisters themselves. An adult with chickenpox should see a health care professional.

Pinkeye. Pinkeye is highly contagious, although usually not serious. The cause can be viral or bacterial. It's spread when you touch your eye after coming into contact with something that an infected person has touched. Besides redness, the disease can cause itching, burning, and drainage. Never touch your eye without washing your hands. Don't share eye makeup or towels.

"Stomach flu" (viral gastroenteritis). While it's commonly called the "stomach flu," viral gastroenteritis has nothing to do with the actual flu. Cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting are the hallmarks of highly contagious gastroenteritis, which gains notoriety when it tears through cruise ships, conventions, etc. Symptoms appear one or two days after exposure to the virus, which is carried in the stool of an infected person. Failure to wash hands after using the bathroom and before handling food or touching surfaces spreads contamination. Several types of viruses are the culprits, and they tend to target certain age groups. Adults are most vulnerable to the Norwalk variety. Children are more commonly affected by the rotavirus. But remember, anyone can catch it, so wash your hands.

Whooping cough (Pertussis). In spite of effective immunizations and widespread vaccination against whooping cough, the highly contagious disease is coming back. The CDC reported 10,454 cases in 2007 compared with 1,000 cases in 1976. The greatest risk of complications is to unvaccinated babies. Adolescents who were vaccinated as babies account for 40% of the new cases. Caregivers should be aware that the disease can be difficult to recognize, because the adolescent's cough isn't the high-pitched "whoop" that characterizes the disease in younger children. Coughing can persist for up to 10 weeks.

Due to the rise in new cases, the CDC now recommends that adolescents get a new booster vaccine for whooping cough, tetanus, and pertussis. A booster is also available for adults. Talk to your doctor to see if you need one.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on July 16, 2014
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