Fact or Fiction: You’re Only Contagious Before You Know You’re Sick

Fact Fiction Sick
Fact Fiction Sick

Can you tell this is my “Oh no” face? (Also shoutout to the Convention theme photobombing in the background.)

So here I am, trying to decide what to write about for my next Fact or Fiction blog post when I sneeze for the fifth or sixth time in the last 30 minutes. Oh no is all I can think.

I may or may not be getting sick. And my coworkers may or may not get really upset when someone comes in sick. The whole contagious thing makes them slightly paranoid. But I keep trying to explain to them that by time you realize you’re sick, you’re not even contagious anymore. They never believe me.

Wait. Did I just come up with my topic? I think so!

Fact or fiction: you’re only contagious before you realize you’re sick.

Let’s Clarify Some Things First

So if I really am getting sick, is it a cold or the flu? Let’s break down the differences.

Fact Fiction SickThe flu is a viral infection that comes with some annoying symptoms. You’ll most likely have a runny nose (and probably stuffy at times as well) and watery eyes. A sore throat, cough, chills, and body aches may or may not happen, but you can count on experiencing a fever usually more than 100 degrees. (Side note: Remember 98 Degrees?)

Basically, the flu is no fun. It’s like the worst.

Now let’s talk about colds, because we all know those are no cup of tea either. (Another side note: a nice cup of tea might actually make you feel better when you’ve got a cold. You’re welcome.)

Like the flu, common colds are also viruses. And the symptoms are essentially the same as the flu but usually less severe. And fevers are not always associated with colds. Maybe this varies because there are more than 200 types of cold viruses. The most common one is the rhinovirus, which brings on 10–40 percent of colds. The coronavirus is responsible for about 20 percent of cases, while the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza virus cause 10 percent of colds.

So…Fact or Fiction?

Well, this one’s pretty straightforward. And I was dead wrong, meaning the notion that you’re no longer contagious once you start feeling cold or flu symptoms is totally fiction.

The flu is contagious one day before and five days to one week after its onset. Colds are contagious from about one week before you get them until all of your symptoms are gone. Uh oh. Cold symptoms can last as long as two weeks! (Time to apologize to my coworkers?)

Combat the Cold

You want to know what I’m not wrong about? The fact that there were probably some precautions I could’ve taken to reduce my chance of contracting this…this…whatever the heck I’m coming down with.

The best thing you can do to fight or prevent a cold or flu virus is take preventive measures that support a healthy immune system.

Typically, a virus enters through hand-to-eye, -nose, or -mouth transmission, so wash your hands regularly.  (Watch the super dramatic video below!)


Finally, don’t forget to take the obvious precautions: healthy diet and exercise, sufficient amounts of sleep, and disinfecting germ-susceptible areas.

Now excuse me, I’m taking off so I can crawl in bed with a bowl of warm soup and binge watch terrible TV shows.

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