This Is When Your Cold Stops Being Contagious

Updated: Oct. 11, 2022

Colds can really ruin your week. But if you give one to your whole office, that's just plain rude.

The cruddiness of a cold isn’t solely symptomatic. It’s one thing to have to endure the slog of sniffles, sneezing, and sinus pressure, but it’s another thing entirely to spread your suffering to the whole office. So when exactly is it safe to exit your quarantine? (If you’re hoping to avoid illness altogether, adopt these 23 habits of people who never get sick.)

It’s not as simple as reading your symptoms—your illness window is much smaller than your contagious window. That time frame also depends on if you have a cold or the flu. How can you tell if you have a cold or the flu? Cold symptoms are more likely to come on gradually, and they’re often milder. They usually include cough, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat. Flu symptoms tend to come on faster than cold symptoms. You may have a cough, chills, fever, aches, and fatigue.

According to the experts at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, if you have a cold, you’re contagious for 1 to 2 days before your symptoms develop (since you can’t see the future, this isn’t all that useful) and for two weeks after you were first exposed to the virus. To feel better faster, consider these 8 things doctors and nurses do to stop a cold in its tracks.

For the flu, you become contagious a day before the symptoms start and stop being contagious about five to seven days after your first fall ill with symptoms. When it comes to a stomach virus, the window for being contagious before you feel ill isn’t quite as defined, but you remain contagious for up to two weeks after you’ve made your recovery. Considering the brevity of the average stomach virus, that can be particularly dangerous for those around you. But just so you’re not confused, here’s how to tell if you’ve got a stomach bug or food poisoning

If your ailment timeline still falls within those ranges, it’s probably best to invest in one of those stylish surgical masks, for everyone’s sake. Opt for soap over hand sanitizer. (Hand sanitizer doesn’t last as long as you think it does.)

You should also avoid close contact with other people, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Move away from people before coughing or sneezing, or cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve. According to research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the germs from a sneeze can travel up to eight meters away—that’s nearly 10 yards. Plus, the virus can live out in the open for up to 10 minutes, depending on environmental conditions. These migrating clouds of fluid tend to swirl upward toward the ceiling, where many public buildings install their ventilation systems. A single sneeze could easily spread contaminated droplets across a room, up through a ceiling duct, and into circulation through a building’s ventilation system, warn the MIT experts. So stay home if you feel lousy, and study the smart habits doctors use to avoid the flu or colds