Respiratory Illness

A person reaches for a tissue from bed

Steps to Take When You’re Sick

Many respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19, flu, RSV, and colds, spread the same ways and have similar symptoms. The CDC simplified what we should do when we’re sick with one of these illnesses to prevent others from getting sick too.   

  1. Stay home if you have symptoms

    Stay home and away from others, including people you live with, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below that aren’t better explained by another cause, like seasonal allergies. 

    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Headache
    • And other common symptoms, like sneezing, sore throat, chills, wheezing, chest discomfort, fatigue (tiredness), muscle or body aches, weakness, new loss of taste or smell, decrease in appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting.

    Consider antiviral treatments soon after your symptoms start. For some respiratory illnesses, there are treatments to help prevent you from becoming seriously ill or dying. 

    • See the CDC’s page on Treatment of Respiratory Viruses for more information on types of treatment. 
    • Talk with your doctor to see if one of these treatments are right for you. 
    • If you have COVID, you must begin the antiviral treatment within five days of your symptoms starting for it to be effective. Talk to your doctor or learn more about other options to see if this is right for you. 
  2. Know when you can leave home and resume normal activities

    You may leave your home and resume your normal activities if both the following are true:

    1. You have been fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and
    2. Your symptoms are getting better overall.

    See the CDC’s page on Preventing Spread of Respiratory Viruses When You’re Sick for examples. 

  3. Take steps to protect others for 5 days after resuming your normal activities.

    Even once you resume your activities, you may still be able to get others sick.

    To avoid getting others sick, take these steps for 5 days after you resume your normal activities: 

    • Wear a well-fitting mask when around others.
    • Physically  distance yourself from people as much as possible.
    • Consider  testing for respiratory viruses. A positive COVID-19 test may mean it’s more likely you could spread the virus to others. 
    • Avoid being around people who have an increased risk of developing severe illness, like family members with cancer or people in a nursing home.

    Read other ways to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. 

    If you have a weakened immune system

    If you have a weakened immune system, you may be able to spread the virus to others for a longer period of time. Take this into consideration when choosing which precautions to use and how long to use them after returning to normal activities. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about your individual situation. 

I tested positive for COVID but don’t have symptoms. 

You might take a test if you have a sick person in your home or if you’re seeing a person who is more likely to get severely sick. You might be surprised to get a positive result if you feel well. 

  • Follow the steps above for at least 5 days after testing positive. Even though you feel well, you may still be able to get others sick. 
  • If you develop symptoms after testing positive, stay home until you meet the criteria above to leave your home.

If you’re a healthcare worker, there are different recommendations for you.

Health care workers are subject to different recommendations due to widespread exposure to respiratory illnesses in your work. 

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