How Long is Flu Contagious and What Precautions Should You Take

how long is the flu contagious

Flu is a short form of influenza. The influenza virus is responsible for causing flu. If you are infected the most obvious symptoms are fever, runny nose, congestion, and cough. Some types of viruses can cause headaches, fatigue and body aches. Flu is contagious and the virus disperses in the air, enters your airways or your eyes and then spreads through your body. The question is for how long is the flu contagious?

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How long is the flu contagious? – Flu spreads through the air

The influenza virus spreads primarily through the air. When an infected person sneezes or coughs and expels air the virus disperses in the air. The tiny droplets that are expelled during coughing and sneezing carry the virus. These droplets travel through the air and other people in the vicinity breathe in the air. The virus enters their body.

It is also possible for flu to spread through contact. An infected person touches any object and if another person touches the object the virus enters their system.

If food and drink are contaminated with the virus it can spread.

A study shows that a weak immune system makes you more vulnerable to influenza attacks. Children are more at risk.  In answer to the question how long is the flu contagious the answer is that the virus does have a limited life.

How long is the flu contagious – Flu virus has a limited life

If you have contracted flu you will wonder for how long is the flu contagious. It takes time of one to four days for the virus to incubate and then show symptoms such as the runny nose, fever, and cough.

  • The first three to four days after incubation are when you are most likely to pass on the flu virus through the air to others in the vicinity.
  • It is not a strict rule that it takes three-four days for the flu to become contagious. Some people who are infected can infect others within a day or two of being infected.
  • In some people with a weakened immune system, the virus may survive for a longer time and they may infect others even after a week or ten days of recovery.

Due to these reasons, it is important that you take precautions to not infect others when you suffer from flu. Always use tissue or handkerchief over your mouth and nose when you cough, clear your nose or sneeze. Avoid touching your nose and eyes with your fingers when flu is in full swing.

Likewise, if you do not wish to contract flu you should avoid touching things that people with flu have touched. Maintain some distance from people with flu. Always wash your hands the first thing and do not touch your nose or eyes or face if you suspect your hands have come in contact with objects contaminated with the virus.

How long is flu contagious – how long does it last

As stated above you know how long is the flu contagious. You pose a threat to others for as long as you have the flu and even afterward. It takes about a week to ten days for normal people to recover. Please note that antibiotics do not have any effect on the virus. Anti-virals may have limited effect because of the variety of types of flu viruses. The body’s immune system swings into action and you will recover in a week to ten days depending on the symptoms and the type of flu bug that has infected you.

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Rest for recovery

The best thing to do when you have the flu is to isolate yourself and take ample rest. Then there are other remedies you can try:

  • Consume hot water mixed with ginger, mint, basil and lemon juice with a little bit of honey. These remedies bring about relief.
  • Stay warm. Keep yourself covered.
  • If fever persists it is best you consult a doctor to ensure there are no complications.

Yes, flu leads to complications in some cases. These complications can be life-threatening in some cases.

How long is the flu contagious – complications

In most cases, recovery takes about a week to ten days depending on the strength of the immune system. In some cases, there may be complications arising out of the infection. How long is the flu contagious once you have some complications?

  • In extreme cases, some people may come down with pneumonia. When you have pneumonia you are still contagious and people around you will need to take extreme precautions. In this situation, you will need to undergo treatment in a hospital where doctors can keep a watch. You are likely to infect others when you have pneumonia.
  • Then there are relatively minor complications like a sinus infection, ear infection, and bronchitis. These conditions arise due to secondary bacterial infection.
  • If you have asthma or any respiratory disease then the flu will worsen the condition.
  • If you have cardiovascular issues you need to be particularly careful when you come down with flu.

A weakened immune system may lead to complications and lengthen the period for which you remain contagious to others. The period also varies depending on the influenza virus strain.

How long is the flu contagious – it also depends on the influenza strain

You may well ask how long is the flu contagious and receive different replies. This is because different influenza strains have different potency levels.

  • The most contagious types are Type A and B influenza virus responsible for causing the majority of flu epidemics. People usually exhibit symptoms of runny nose, fever, aches, and coughing. Type A virus keeps evolving and the Type A2 virus spreads with ease. Birds and animals usually contract flu due to this type of virus and it may spread to humans.
  • Type B affects human beings and has milder effects but it still is a threat.
  • The Type C virus is less severe and people usually recover faster. Type C influenza does not cause epidemics.

Race and genetics, as well as your age and state of health, also play a key role in the spread of influenza. It also depends on the survival of the virus outside the host.

How long is the flu contagious – Survival rate of virus

As seen above there are different strains of viruses responsible for causing influenza. People catch infection quickly when an infected person passes on the virus through the air and others breathe in that air.

However, once outside the host, the virus has a definite life. Viruses weaken and lose potency after 24 hours. However, they may survive for longer periods if the surfaces on which they rest are smooth and non-porous such as polished metal and plastics.

Some viruses will survive for only a few hours outside the human body. Patients who sneeze and cough must use tissues to prevent the virus from spreading into the air and infecting others or settling on other surfaces. Such viruses caught in the tissue have a survival time of about a half-hour at the most.  Viruses in the air can survive for just a couple of hours, longer if the temperature is low.

How long is the flu contagious – people at high risk

Influenza causes temporary inconvenience to most healthy people. However, you have seen above for how long is the flu contagious. If you are particularly vulnerable it helps to avoid the company of people or wear a mask to avoid being infected.  Who are at high risk?

  • Children below the age of five years and particularly those below 2 years of age are vulnerable.
  • People aged 60 and above have a weak immune system and are vulnerable to infections.
  • People with pre-existing conditions such as bronchitis, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular issues, and respiratory diseases are at high risk. In such instances, they are likely to face the risk of complications.
  • Diabetics contract flu with ease because of their reduced immune response.
  • Pregnant women can contract influenza and they should take particular care to ensure safety.
  • Cancer patients are vulnerable to contracting influenza with ease
  • HIV/AIDS patients can fall prey to influenza
  • Some children with neurologic conditions easily become infected.
  • Health care workers who handle patients can contract influenza if they do not take preventive steps and safeguards.
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In all cases, it is better for people at high risk to take preventive measures and opt for yearly vaccinations.

How long is the flu contagious – Prevention is better because there is no cure

You have seen above how long is the flu contagious and how you can contract the virus with ease. Since there are no effective anti-virals that will kill viruses the same way antibiotics kill bacteria it is best to take preventive steps to stay safe.  Influenza is deadly for some people, leading to hospitalization and even death. It can happen to even healthy people, not just those who are at high risk.

Winter and spring are the times when you are likely to contract influenza. If you do then you are likely to be out of action for a week to ten days. Further, you are likely to infect others in the family and at work. The best way to stay safe is to get yourself vaccinated each year. Your local doctor should know which type of influenza is prevalent in your area and he will recommend the vaccine that works best.

Since the virus spreads through droplets dispersed in the air it is best to keep your mouth and nose covered when you are in the company of people. There is no knowing who may be a carrier. Even persons who appear normal may be dispersing the virus.

Wear gloves when influenza is doing the rounds. It is likely you will touch contaminated surfaces. If you cannot wear gloves then make sure you do not touch any part of your body with your hands. Wash your hands with antiseptic as soon as you can and stay safe.

How long is the flu contagious – do not spread flu

You think that the flu is nothing severe and that you can go to work. Think about how long is the flu contagious and how you will infect others in public and at your place of work. Do you wish to do that?

  • Take leave and stay at home for at least 3-4 days once you exhibit symptoms of flu.
  • If you must go out please wear a protective mask to prevent the dispersion of viruses in the air. You have a social responsibility to not cause harm to others. It is not everyone for himself. Be responsible and you will prevent others from catching the bug and becoming incapacitated for a while.
  • Even when you are at home follow the above precaution and wear a mask to prevent infecting your family member.
  • Dispose of all tissues in the incinerator.  Always use tissues when you cough or sneeze and put them inside a container when done with. Keep the container closed.
  • Take these precautions even after you recover.

Influenza is one of those things that happens all the time especially during winter and at springtime when your immunity may go down. Influenza of the special type such as bird flu or swine flu is something you have to be very careful about. This type of flu is extremely contagious and deadly. You will need to be extremely careful to take whatever precautions you can against being infected by this type of flu because of the high-risk factor. If there is a flu epidemic doing the rounds then do not assume that it will not happen to you. Get yourself vaccinated as the first line of defense and then wear a mask and gloves as the second line of defense. Give your family the same attention and make sure everyone receives an anti-flu vaccination.

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