One of the basic guidelines for stopping the spread of influenza is to stay home if you’re sick. But for how long? When is it OK to go back to work or school?
Oregon Public Health Division recommends that people with flu-like symptoms stay home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100° F or 37.8°C) without using fever-reducing medications. Most people will get better on their own without seeking medical advice.
This recommendation applies to camps, schools, businesses, mass gatherings and other community settings where the majority of people are not at high risk for complications from the flu. Different guidelines apply to health-care settings. The recommendations for community settings are designed to balance the risk of disease transmission and the goal of minimizing social disruption. Local and state health officials may adjust the guidelines at the community level if needed. Currently, the Oregon Public Health Division recommendations are also those used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you have flu-like symptoms, you should stay at home and avoid contact with others for the recommended amount of time, except when necessary to seek medical care. Staying home when you have a fever may reduce the spread of infection, because elevated temperature is associated with increased shedding of the influenza virus. This is true regardless of whether or not you’re using antiviral medications.
Even after your fever is gone, you may still shed influenza virus, but at lower levels than during your fever. This can continue for 10 days or more. When you return to work, school, or other community settings after having the flu, be sure to keep practicing good respiratory etiquette (covering your coughs and sneezes) and avoid close contact with people you know are at risk of flu-related complications. And everyone should always wash their hands frequently.
For more details about the CDC recommendations on how long to stay home after you’ve had the flu, go to the CDC website.