Viruses are responsible for two contagious respiratory infections, cold and flu. The duration for which a person remains contagious with the disease can vary from one person to another. People usually do not see a doctor in case of flu and the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) also don’t consider deaths of adults from flu as a notifiable thing across the world.
Both the viral infections are contagious. It is important to know that for how long is the flu contagious to prevent it from spreading. In this blog, we will look into the symptoms of flu and how low is the respiratory illness contagious.
How long is the flu contagious
The symptoms of flu last for almost 10 days, depending on the person who is affected. A person can also spread the infection one day before the symptoms show up and then for almost seven to ten days after falling sick.
The influenza virus is a contagious respiratory virus that infects people of all ages. The intensity of the infection varies in individuals.
The symptoms can be mild in some while life-threatening in certain individuals at risk of respiratory illness, like older adults. Viral shedding is the process through which these viruses spread from one body to another. When a virus completes the replication cycle within one cell, it starts releasing new viruses. The newly formed viruses then infect more cells and the body then expels it out in the air, transmitting it to other individuals.
The influenza virus leaves a person’s body in different ways, such as by mixing in saliva and mucus. The elements make their way into the open environment through coughing and sneezing.
A study in The Pedriatic Infectitious Disease Journal inferred that kids have a longer viral shedding period, much before the symptoms show up as compared to adults. The study found that kids below 5 years of age had the longest period of viral shedding, even after the symptoms resolve.
The main difference between cold and flu can be determined from their symptoms. The symptoms of flu are more serious than the symptoms of cold. It affects the entire body, whereas common cold typically leads to problems in the upper airway.
Like different viruses, flu viruses evolve and change constantly. So, the body doesn’t always deal with the same infectious virus twice. This can lead individuals to contract influenza flu every year.
How to prevent flu from spreading?
Proper hand hygiene can help restrict flu and cold from spreading. The most crucial factor that helps reduce the spreading of viral infections is developing healthy habits during flu and cold season.
Drink lots of water, eat a healthy diet and get sufficient rest during the flu season. Doing these simple practices can significantly reduce the symptoms and allow a person to recover the condition much easier than the people who do not follow these practices.
When you see any symptoms of flu, follow these steps to protect other people in your surrounding from getting infected with the illness:
Throw away the tissues: If possible, always discard the tissues right away after use. By using a new tissue every time you cough or sneeze reduces the chances of any contact with the virus and keeps your hands clean.
Cover your mouth while coughing and sneezing: Always cover your nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing. Use a tissue of your sleeve’s elbow to restrict the saliva droplets from releasing in the air. The saliva or mucus droplets consist of the influenza viruses that can increase the risk of spreading.
Wash your hands frequently: To reduce the spread of flu and cold viruses, wash your hands at regular intervals, specifically after getting in contact with bodily fluids. If possible, you should try to avoid any direct contact with others or any public items like door handles and telephones.
If it becomes difficult to control the symptoms, you should stay back home from school or work and stay away from any social activity. It prevents the virus from spreading while taking care of your health.
What are the symptoms of common cold?
Once the virus starts infecting the body, it moves around rapidly, increasing the chances of viral shedding. Common cold symptoms develop when the immune system starts responding to combat the cold virus.
Although the symptoms of common cold are mild and you can recover in a few days without, medical aid, they can be distressing and irritating.
Some of the main symptoms of common cold are:
- A sore throat
- A cough
- A runny nose
- Hoarseness f voice
- Nasal congestion
For a small group of people, common cold can also give way to other serious illnesses, thus putting the individual at risk. These illnesses are mainly ear infections and severe respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of flu?
The symptoms of flu are quite similar to that of common cold, but vary in intensity flu being more intense than cold.
Some of the major symptoms of flu are:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Cody or muscle ache
How to treat flu and cold?
There are a range of medicines available in pharmacies to treat the viral infection of cold and flu. The symptoms of both cold and flu cause disturbing symptoms that affects your day-to-day life. However, viral infection like these can be recovered within a few days without any particular treatment.
But, there are cases when some people need treatment to recover get relief from the intense symptoms of these viral infections. There is an extensive range of drugs used to treat the symptoms of flu and cold. These are available OTC (over the counter).
You can also purchase medication for cold and flu online. However, it is better to see a doctor and get the most guaranteed treatment. Your doctor might provide you with antiviral medications, if your symptoms get severe, disturbing your daily lifestyle.
Some people opt for preventative measures against flu, which is in form of vaccines. Developing a vaccine for a virus that is constantly evolving is quite difficult.
But, the CDC reported that using a vaccine as a preventative action against flu cab decrease the risk of people contracting flu by almost 40% to 60%. It happens when the vaccine is suitable for a specific virus type that is circulating.
There are many other factors that cam limit the effectiveness of a flu vaccine, but the CDC sticks to its report saying vaccine is the most effective way of preventing flu.
Although some people have this notion that a person can contract the infection even after taking the flu vaccine, it is not the case. After you receive the flu vaccine, you might encounter aches in the arm the next day. It is nothing but a mild immune reaction that goes away within a few days.
As the flu vaccine takes around two weeks to turn completely effective, some people might catch flu shortly after getting a shot or could be already infected with virus while getting the shot.
Manufacturers generally produce the flu vaccine from viral components or inactive viruses, as opposed to the ‘live’ virus. So, people do not get flu after taking the flu vaccine/shot.
Drugs used for treatment of various flu symptoms
Now that we have talked about the flu vaccine for prevention of flu altogether, let us discuss the medications a doctor provides for different flu symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, etc.
If you have nasal congestion, your doctor might provide you with a decongestant. It comes in nasal spray or oral forms. Decongestants reduces swelling in your nasal passageways. But, that doesn’t mean you should use it throughout the duration of the infection. Doctors suggest not taking nasal spray decongestants for more than a few days as, if they are used for too long and stopped suddenly, it can result in rebound symptoms.
In case of a runny nose, itchy watery eyes or postnasal drip, your doctor will prescribe you antihistamines for your symptoms. Antihistamines block the adverse effect of histamine and relieves irritating symptoms of itching, sneezing and nasal discharge.
You also need to keep in mind that over-the-counter antihistamines can make you feel drowsy. Even decongestants can make you feel hyper or keep you awake all night. These two kinds of medication can come in contact with other drugs you take and worsen your flu conditions. SO, have a word with the pharmacist or doctor about the best treatment for your flu symptoms.
Treatment for nasal congestion
For instant relief for congested and swollen nasal passages, you can use the decongestant nasal spray available at almost every chemist shops. You should stop using the nasal sprays after three days to prevent rebound congestion conditions.
There are doctors who suggest a saline spray in place of the medicated spray. Saline sprays can loosen the thick mucus and clear the nasal passageways without having a rebound effect. You can also use it without any serious side-effects
Can people with high blood pressure use decongestant to get away from flu symptoms?
No. You need to talk to the doctor about your health condition as decongestant can boost your blood pressure levels and heart rate, Phenylephrine and Pseudophedrine are kinds of oral decongestants that are easily available in chemist stores.
Treatment for cough symptoms
Having cough occasionally can clear your lungs from pollutants and excess amount of phlegm. However, a persistent cough must be diagnosed and treat properly. You can find various cough medicines at pharmacies, with different combinations of antihistamine, decongestants, cough suppressants, expectorants and analgesics or antipyretics. Talk to a trusted pharmacist about the combination that will suit your condition best. If nothing works, you must see a doctor.
Treatment for fever and body aches
Children below the age of 19 should not take Acetaminophen, aspirin or medicines like naproxen, ibuprofen and other over-the0counter medicines for body ache and fever. Each of these medications come with their own risks. So, it is better to see a doctor for the best solution.
Do not take an overdose! The above-mentioned drugs can interact with other flu and cold remedies and worsen your flu symptoms. You can check with your doctor or pharmacist for the drug interactions and ingredients.
Treatment for sore throat
Drinking sufficient fluids and doing salt water gargling works well for relieving the conditions of sore throat. You can also take over-the-counter pain killers and medicated gargles and lozenges. But, remember to take advice from your doctor before taking any of these medications. Do not take medicated gargles and lozenges for a prolonged period of time. If your throat is not relieving in a couple of days, call your doctor and ask for an alternative. The medication can cover up the symptoms of strep throat, a bacterial infection that must be treated using antibiotics.
Antiviral drug for flu treatment
Antiviral flu drugs are mostly taken to reduce the intensity and duration of your flu symptoms. There are cases when your doctor might prescribe you these drugs, which includes, oseltamivir, zanamivir and baloxavir marboxil.
A doctor recommends the first dose within 48 hours of the starting of flu symptoms. In case you have increased risk of severe complications from the flu, you need to see your doctor immediately. Usually people associated with high risks are infants, older people with chronic illnesses, people with a weakened immune system, pregnant women, Alaskan Natives and Native Americans. Most of these antiviral have side-effects.
Antiviral drugs for children – Is it safe?
At the onset of flu symptoms, you should talk to a doctor about giving antiviral drugs to your kid. There are cases when these flu drugs can help your child recover sooner and prevent serious flu complications.
Antivirals work well when taken within two days of the illness. So, you should give the first dose within 48 hours from the time the symptoms show up.
Antibiotis for treating flu symptoms
Antibiotics cannot help relieving the symptoms of flu because the condition is caused by a virus and antibiotics are only helpful in treating bacterial infections. Moreover, taking antibiotics can increase your risk of an infection that will resist the effect of antibiotics.
The Bottom Line
Flu is a kind of viral infection with symptoms similar but severe than cold. It is essential to know how long the flu is contagious to avoid it from spreading. Keep your nose and mouth covered while sneezing or coughing. Change and dump the tissues every time you sneeze and wash your hands frequently.
If your condition doesn’t recover in a few days or a week, you need to see a doctor for suitable treatment.