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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Most People With Flu Don’t Stay Home

Survey Shows Two-Thirds of Americans Stick to Their Routines Despite Flu Symptoms
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Explaining Our Flu Behavior

Why do people go to work or school with flu symptoms? "They may be in denial," Rehm says. "They may not realize this is the flu and not a cold. They may not be aware of how it spreads, and there may be economic reasons."

To decide if you've got flu, Rehm suggested remembering the acronym FACTS:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Sudden onset of symptoms

"If you start getting flu symptoms, contact your health care provider quickly," she says. It may be possible to prescribe an antiviral medication to help you feel better faster.

Second Opinion

The survey findings are no surprise to Peter Galier, MD, attending physician and former chief of staff at Santa Monica -- UCLA Medical Center & Orthopaedic Hospital, Calif., and associate professor of medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He reviewed the findings for WebMD.

''People don't realize how far microscopic snot flies," he says. Nor do they realize how much they touch objects others touch during the course of a day, potentially picking up the virus that way, he says.

''Stay home when you are sick,'' he says. "Have plenty of hand sanitizer around." Use disposable tissues, he suggests, and clean your workplace often. You can use alcohol swabs to clean your keyboard and phone, he says.

In a public restroom, he says, faucets can have the virus on them. But motion-controlled faucets and towel-dispensers are becoming more common, making contact with faucets and towel dispensers unnecessary.

When Do You Stop Being Contagious?

How do you know when you can return to work?

For flu, Galier says, "you have to have no fever for 24 hours without taking medication for fever'' to consider yourself not contagious.

Rehm agrees. "'For people who are [typically] healthy, once the fever is gone the risk of contagion is gone or going," she says. "Those with compromised immune systems [due to HIV, for instance] can shed the virus longer."

"If you still feel bad after the fever is gone, stay home one more day," she suggests.

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