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Colleagues Who Say 'Don't Worry, I'm Not Contagious' Don't Understand How Flu Works


Recovering from the flu can feel euphoric. After days of misery and feverish dreams, there comes a surge of energy, an awakening to floral notes in the honey on your morning toast, and, often, an eagerness to return to the land of the living—your workplace.

But that’s a step too far, according to a new video made for the science series Skunk Bear, from National Public Radio. No matter how much you’ve bounced back from your flu’s lows, you’re still contagious at the beginning of your recovery, NPR’s Maddie Sofia, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology, explains in the short piece.

The immune system’s response  is what gives a person fever and other symptoms. But eventually, when it’s winning the battle, it has to ease off. By that time the nasty symptoms are gone, and most of the virus has been killed off, but small amounts of the virus hang around in your body after your immune system has pulled back from its attack.

As cute as the video is, its message is not to be taken lightly. This year’s flu season has been especially deadly, and if you’re in a job where you’re able to take sick days or work from home, there’s no reason to take chances. Wait about seven days from the time you were infected (which is about a day before the symptoms appeared) before considering yourself safe.

As Quartz At Work has noted before, even sneezing into your elbow in the privacy of your cubicle doesn’t necessarily protect your colleagues. Tiny droplets that escape in a sneeze or cough can still hit the air at 25 to 50 miles per hour, and may venture as far 20 feet. They also hover overhead and live on surfaces, like phones or filing cabinet handles.

Fortunately, the workplace may soon be less of a flu-y minefield. The latest data from the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control suggests that the flu season may be plateauing.

It’s nearly over.

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