Am I Contagious? How Long an Illness is Infectious

The weather is cooling down, kids are back in school, and holiday travel is about to begin. That’s plenty of opportunities to catch an illness. I wrote about ways to stay healthy and boost immunity, you can read that here, but what if you catch something?

I always found it to be quite inconsiderate when people don’t stay home when they’re sick. To me personally, I don’t find someone “powering through” the day while sick something to applaud. It exposes everyone else to bugs that could be easily avoided. There’s also quite a bit of confusion on how long you are contagious if you come down with a sickness. Is it just while feverish? Are you in the clear if symptoms have subsided? Can you infect somebody if symptoms are gone?

Depends on the illness. So here’s how long somebody is contagious:

  1. Cold: While colds aren’t usually taken very seriously as this virus can be quite mild, it doesn’t make you any less likely to pass it on to another person. Colds are contagious for 1 day prior to symptoms all the way up to 7 days after symptoms start. But some are contagious for as long as symptoms hang around, as much as 2 weeks.
  2. Flu: The flu can be deadly for many people, so it’s not something to mess with. The flu contagious for 1 day prior to symptoms and lasts up to 7 days after symptoms start. But like the cold, the flu has the potential to infect another for as long as symptoms hang around.
  3. Stomach Flu: The stomach flu can tear through a classroom or house and is super contagious. Depending on the precise virus causing it, this illness is contagious for a few days before symptoms start all the way to either 3 or 4 days after symptoms stop or even 2 weeks after recovery.
  4. Ear Infections: Good news! Ear infections are not contagious! But these are usually caused by a cold or flu, which are infectious.
  5. Pinkeye: Pinkeye is very simple to solve because it’s a bacterial infection that only requires antibiotic eye drops. This is contagious while symptoms last or until 24 hours after antibiotics are administered.
  6. Fifth Disease: This virus is also called “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” because of symptoms. This one’s tricky because it is only contagious in days before symptoms start. Once symptoms have begun, it is no longer infectious.
  7. Strep Throat: Strep is caused by a bacteria and is pretty easily stopped with antibiotics. People with strep are contagious until 24 hours after antibiotics are started. If they don’t take antibiotics, they are infectious for about 2 to 3 weeks.

Many of these illnesses are contagious for quite a bit of time. And, it’s important to note that you are most infectious when symptoms are at their worst. So, after you feel better, and it is so important to continue to be careful about:

  • washing your hands
  • covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • steering clear of newborns, pregnant women, immune-comprised and elderly people
  • wipe down surfaces that you frequently touch

Stay healthy!


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