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Too Sick to Work?

How sick is too sick to go to work? Advice on when you should just stay home.
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Too Sick to Work: Colds and Flu

You wake up with a scratchy throat, followed shortly by sneezing, a runny nose, and coughing. It could be the common cold, which is most contagious during the first two days after symptoms start.

The onset is most infectious because of “a high viral load,” Cummins says, “but people can be contagious for several days or even up to a week.”

A cold doesn’t always bring fever, but some people develop a mild one at the beginning.

“Even though fever makes you feel terrible, it’s actually your friend because it’s your body’s attempt to get rid of whatever ails you,” says Linda Haynes, MD, an associate clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

What’s a true fever? Many patients, even nurses on occasion, will report a fever to Haynes if they get a thermometer reading of 99 degrees. “That’s not a fever,” Haynes says. “Technically, we consider a fever anything over 100.3 degrees.”

Resting at home when you have a fever or severe cold symptoms, such as lots of coughing and sneezing, will not only aid your recovery, but also spare your coworkers from infectious droplets.

If you have mild coughing and sneezing and no fever -- and you feel that you need to go to work -- take measures to reduce chances of infecting others. Be sure to cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands frequently to prevent transmission, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Compared to colds, flu symptoms are more severe and tend to come on abruptly. The flu also penetrates deeper into the respiratory tract. Often, the flu announces itself with chills. Fever is also common in the first few days, and a sick person’s temperature may rise to 102 or 103 degrees. Other flu signs: muscle aches, headache, a runny nose, sore throat, cough, weakness, and fatigue.

The flu delivers a punch powerful enough that many people want to take to bed for a few days. Again, fever and severe symptoms are strong signs that you're too sick to work and should stay home. The flu usually goes away in seven to 10 days in otherwise healthy people, although they may still have a cough and feel tired when they return to work. Although most people will need a few days off to recuperate, they can go back to the workplace 24 to 48 hours after their temperature has returned to normal.

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