The flu is contagious 1-2 days before symptoms start and up to 5-7 days after symptoms have developed. You are usually the most contagious during the first 3-4 days of experiencing symptoms. Young children and people who have weak immune systems may be contagious for longer.
Both the severity and duration of flu symptoms vary from person to person. For most people, the flu resolves within a week, but symptoms can last up to 10 days or more for others.
How does the flu virus spread?
The flu spreads through a process known as viral shedding. A virus replicates inside a cell, and the viruses mix with mucus and saliva and find their way outside through droplets that escape when you cough or sneeze.
Droplets with the virus can stay suspended in the air and infect anyone nearby who inhales them. The virus can also be spread when an infected person touches their face and then touches surfaces like doorknobs and desktops. The objects that allow the settling of the virus and help in its transmission are known as fomites. When a healthy person touches these fomites and then their face with the same (unclean) hand, the virus can enter their respiratory system and cause flu.
How to prevent the flu from spreading
When it comes to reducing the spread of flu, the most important factor is practicing good hygiene in all seasons, especially during the flu season.
- Cover your mouth and nose: Your saliva and mucus are the main sources of transmission of the virus from you to healthy people around you. So remember to always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, you can use the inside of your elbow to cover your mouth and nose.
- Throw away used tissues: Discard tissues immediately after use. Use a new tissue every time you sneeze or cough and clean your hands.
- Wash your hands: Wash. Wash. Wash. Every time you come in contact with your body fluids, wash your hands with soap or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Sanitize your hands before and after touching doorknobs, handles and public surfaces. Avoid direct contact with people and maintain a safe distance from them.
- Practice social distancing: Maintain a distance of about 6 feet from other people. This protects you from expelling air droplets carrying the virus. Masking up helps too.
How to ease flu symptoms
The best way to prevent getting the flu is to get a flu shot. But if you do end up getting sick, here are some tips to ease your symptoms:
Most importantly, stay home and take a raincheck from social gatherings. This will not only ensure that you take care of yourself but also that you stop the flu from spreading to other people.