Are You Too Sick to Work?

Neha Robinson, MD Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare-Waltham

JANUARY 01, 0001

Ah … ah … ah … achoo! When sniffles and coughing arises, there are two types of people in this world: those who choose to stay home sick, which can result in a short-staffed workplace, and those who “tough it out,” which might cause the spread of germs! So which type are you?

The answer could depend on knowing the difference between when it’s okay to go in to work and when you should just stay home.

sick Making an informed decision begins with asking yourself some simple questions:

How long have I been feeling sick?

You are most contagious in the first 48 hours of a viral illness. Staying home can reduce the risk of spreading your illness, while also giving your immune system a jump start on recovery. So although you might not feel as deeply sick or have as many symptoms at the start of your illness, you could be doing yourself, and those around you, the biggest favor by staying home.

For example, the common cold, caused by a virus, typically starts with runny nose and/or sore throat; people notice a cough a few days later (although it can all be a part of the same illness).

Am I contagious?

Typically, illnesses are passed through viral particles that we let off when we are sick. If you have a wet cough, a runny nose, fever or aches, you should probably stay at home.

Do I have a ...

Runny nose/cough?

If it’s just a runny nose without aches or fever, then you may be experiencing allergies. A dry or “clear-your-throat” cough may also be allergies or irritation, rather than a viral infection. In this case, it’s probably okay for you to go to work. But if your runny nose is accompanied thick, yellow or green mucus, this is an indication that your body is fighting off an illness. Stay home!

Sore throat?

If your throat hurts AND you have aches, including headache and/or you see white patches on your tonsils, you could have strep throat. Stay home and call your doctor, as you might need an antibiotic.


Take your temperature. If the thermometer reads over 102°F, that’s a strong indication for infection, and maybe the flu.

Sinus Pain?

Nasal congestion with sinus or facial pain suggests sinus infection. Sinus infections can be viral or bacterial. Viral sinus infections are often contagious. If you have had symptoms longer than one week, or if you have ear pain, teeth/jaw pain, and other aches, you probably have a bacterial infection and should consult your doctor. Either way, it’s best to stay home.

So there you have it, some helpful tips for navigating the uniquely American condition of “presenteesim.” Just remember, for those times when you’re not feeling your best but must go into work for a big meeting or to finish up that annual report, make sure to wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer, as well as covering your sneezes and coughs. It’s more than just good etiquette. It’s good health.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

January 2017

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.