No one likes to be sick. You are tired, congested and unhappy. But the common cold is, well, common. In fact, every year Americans suffer 1 billion colds.
Adults catch two to three colds a year, while children tend to catch them more often, catching up to eight a year. This may help explain why colds cause more medical appointments in the US than any other illness.
You are more contagious in the first three days
It's hard to pinpoint when exactly people stop being contagious, says Isaac Bogoch, MD, infectious disease consultant at the University of Toronto. But colds tend to be more contagious within the first three days when the virus enters your body. This is when you begin to experience symptoms including sneezing, stuffy nose, scratchy throat and mild fatigue.
These early days are also when you are likely to feel most unhappy; so stay at home in bed if you can, and away from the people you can infect. After that, you still have at least five to seven days of symptoms before you start feeling normal again, during which time you can still be contagious.
"There is variability in how long people get contagious after a cold, but it can take five to seven days," says Bogoch.
A good rule of thumb is to assume you are contagious while you have symptoms. This may last a week or occasionally, in about 25% of cases, symptoms may last longer, but usually no more than 10 days.
When it's okay to get back to work
Taking a week or more off work is hardly ideal, which is why Bogoch says it's okay to go back to work after you get past the peak of symptoms and recover.
You can still be contagious, which is why, according to Bogoch, if you feel good enough to get back to work, you should practice impeccable hand hygiene to ensure that they do not infect others.
This means keeping your hands clean by washing them with soap and water or using alcohol periodically. Bogoch also recommends that people seek medical attention if they experience more severe or unusual symptoms.
"If people are short of breath, intractable nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inability to keep fluids, or if symptoms do not go away after a week," Bogoch adds, "then you know it's time to seek medical attention because you can not be a common cold ".