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Colds and flu: when to call in sick

To call in sick or not to call in sick? The question arises often during cold and flu season. Deciding whether you should take a day off may affect more than just you and your sickly self.

People who soldier on through their illnesses by showing up at work can actually encourage more illness and cost the company money in lost productivity. When in doubt, it's often best to stay at home to rest and avoid spreading infections to others.

Two days after catching a cold is when symptoms usually begin, and this is the most contagious time, when people are most likely to pass on the cold to someone else. These are the days when you notice the first signs and symptoms – sneezing, runny nose, cough. Once symptoms appear, they can last anywhere from two to 14 days and remain contagious for up to 2 weeks.

You can spread the flu virus in the day or two before symptoms set in, but you won't even know yet that you're a contagion danger. You’ll typically remain contagious for up to 5 to 7 days after you’ve been sick.

A few sniffles and sneezes, a cough now and then – these aren't big contagion dangers as long as you practice healthy hygiene around your workplace. Wash your hands more often with soap and water, or keep a bottle of hand sanitizer convenient. Keep your hands and germs to yourself by avoiding touching too many things around your workplace. Wipe your nose or sneeze into disposable tissues and throw them in the garbage immediately after you are done using them.

But for your own good and the sake of your coworkers' health, follow these guidelines for when you should call in sick:

  • Feeling feverish: A fever is a sure-fire sign that you need to take a day off. It means that your body is working to fight off infection.
  • Ache for a break: Like a fever, body aches are signs that your body is battling a strong virus. During a cold, you may feel a bit achy, but the flu can bring on more intense body aches.
  • Severe sore throat: Minor throat pain can occur with a cold or flu virus infection. But severe sore throat may be a sign of a bacterial infection that requires a visit to your doctor.
  • Seeing colours: Two colours are sick day tip-offs - pink and green. Green mucus is a sign of infection, and conjunctivitis, or "pinkeye," is a contagious infection commonly associated with the common cold.

If your symptoms escalate, you may have another call to make, this time to the doctor's office. Seek medical attention if:

  • You have a fever of 40°C (104°F) or higher.
  • You have unusual symptoms such as neck pain or shortness of breath
  • Your symptoms get worse rather than better or last for more than 10 days.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2023. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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