Got a case of the sniffles? Here’s how long you’re contagious

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Raise your hand if this is you: Your daily run now features a guest star (AKA your runny nose), you can’t stop sneezing, and your head feels like it’s about to pop. (Yuck!) Now raise your hand if this is also you: Even though you’re under the weather, you want to stick to your normal routine, which is jam-packed with work, workouts, and spending time with friends.

The thing is, if you’re contagious, you should definitely take a step back—getting everyone around you sick would be a real bummer, and getting sicker yourself would mean missing more beloved sweat sessions and BFF hangs. So how do you know if you’re contagious or not? And when can you return to business as usual?

Keep reading for some expert recommendations for keeping your cold to yourself (your co-workers will thank you).

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How long am I contagious with the flu or cold?
Stocksy/Sergey Filimonov

The short answer: If you’re sneezing, you’re contagious

That pitch meeting you’ve been prepping for and your fave hot yoga class might seem important enough to power through a case of the sniffles for, but medical experts recommend you pump the brakes until you’re on the mend.

“Bacterial infections, like strep, and viruses, like those that cause colds and the flu, are contagious,” says Claire Farel, MD, medical director at University of North Carolina’s Infectious Disease Clinic. “If you have nasal congestion, fever, chills, or a sore throat, especially during the late fall to early spring months, it’s likely you have something contagious.”

“Generally, you are contagious until at least 24 hours after your fever goes away and your symptoms are improving.” —Tanya Altmann, MD

And you’re likely able to spread your sickness until your symptoms have subsided, says Tanya Altmann, MD, a California-based pediatrician and author. “It depends on the specific infection, but generally, you are contagious until at least 24 hours after your fever goes away and your symptoms are improving,” Dr. Altmann says. (But if you’re feeling pressure in your ears rather than your sinuses, Katharine Miao, MD, a New-York-City-based physician and medical director at CityMD, says, you’re in luck: You might have an ear infection—yep, adults get them, too!—which, while decidedly not fun, is not contagious.)

Waiting until you’re fully recovered before returning to your regularly scheduling programing isn’t purely an altruistic act. Practicing a little thing called self-care can help you feel more like yourself again sooner. “You can decrease the amount of time you’re contagious by resting at home and drinking plenty of fluids,” says Dr. Miao. “Listen to your body and let it guide you. Your body will tell you what it needs.”

Here’s how you can attempt to prevent the flu this season. And if your partner gets sick, here’s what to do to make sure you don’t both suffer.

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