Stomach Viruses: How Soon Can You Go to Work?

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If you have a short-term stomach virus and are trying to decide whether to stay home or tough it out at work, these tips can guide you through what to do.

Can I Spread the Virus to my Coworkers?

Thinking about how easily viruses can be spread is important in determining when it is safe to return to work. Viruses that cause stomach ailments spread through close contact with someone who is infected, such as sharing food or utensils and touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water is the best infection prevention. In addition, disinfect contaminated surfaces right away with a bleach solution if you have been vomiting or had diarrhea. Then allow the surface to air dry completely before use. If these practices seem too burdensome or if it is not possible to take these measures in the workplace, you may need to delay your return to work.

How long should you stay home and why?

A number of viruses cause gastrointestinal distress, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. At onset, you should stay at home because stomach viruses tend to be highly contagious when symptoms are still present and afterwards. In addition, these symptoms are often difficult to manage in a busy workplace, with frequent trips to the bathroom.

The stomach viruses most common in adults can stick around and be spread for a few days after you feel better, so the best-case scenario is to stay home at least 24 hours after your symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping, have completely resolved. However, if possible, staying home three days after your symptoms stop ensures that you are no longer contagious or have a virus that can cause others to become sick as well. This precaution is especially beneficial if you work in a food service or healthcare industry, where close contact with objects and people occurs often.

For many people, there is a lot of pressure to return to work quickly. But you’re doing everyone around you a favor if you stay home until you’re no longer contagious.

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