How Long is My Child Contagious? When to Stay Home & Snuggle

We’ve all been there, sitting on the couch, scrolling through Instagram, when a friend posts a sad picture with the caption that three out of four people in her household are vomiting. The next morning, as you drop your kids off at Sunday school, two of her kids run up to greet them at the door. Hm, you think to yourself. I’m glad they’re feeling better, but are they still carrying germs? The fact that the flu has spread to “epidemic proportions” this year begs the question: when is it safe to venture out once you or your child have been beset with illness? Thanks to the vast array of information available at the click of a button, it isn’t too tricky to figure it out.

The Flu

I’m going to start with the flu, because Influenza has been rampant in Wichita this year. It’s important to know that, after getting the flu, your child is contagious the day before she got sick, and will remain contagious 5 to 7 days after the first day of symptoms. In fact, some kids are contagious for two weeks, so doctors recommend keeping your child home until all of their symptoms fade.

It spreads through droplets in the air, so bringing a child with the flu into a public place puts everyone around you at risk. It’s also important to know that medications like Tamiflu do not stop the spread of the flu. Instead, the only benefit is that they may shorten the length of time a person is sick. The flu shot was only 10% effective this year, so even those who took precautions might catch it, and young babies, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are in danger of serious complications. As of January 28, the CDC reported just under 40 children have died from the flu in America already. The flu is not a joke! If it visits your family the same way it did mine, the best thing you can do is settle in for a long winter snuggle.

Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection)

I have a one-year-old right now, so colds are our family’s constant companion. In fact, according to The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, babies building up their immune systems may get up to 12 colds a year!  A child is most contagious when he’s feeling his worst (usually days three through five). But the truth is, symptoms can last for up to two weeks, and he’s contagious as long as he’s sick. Of course, you can’t always keep him home for weeks, so the best mode of action is to simply wash your hands frequently after touching him, keeping him away from other kids during the cold’s peak. And if the snot is green versus yellow? It doesn’t matter. All colds are contagious regardless of mucus color. Sometimes a cold will cause an ear infection, but the good news is that ear infections are not contagious at all!

Vomiting and Diarrhea

The “stomach bug” is usually caused because a virus invaded the intestinal tract, and is often (but not always) accompanied by a fever. Vomiting usually ends after 24 to 48 hours, but diarrhea can last a week or more. Vomiting and diarrhea are spread by bacteria in the stool, so washing your hands immediately after changing a diaper or cleaning up vomit is key to not spreading it to others. If your child is throwing up, she is contagious from the first symptom until she feels completely better. If she wears a diaper, she is considered contagious until her stool is firm enough not to leak through her diaper.

Strep Throat

Symptoms of this bacterial infection include sore throat, fever, headache, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and nausea. Strep is spread by sneezes, coughs, and sharing sippy cups. But knowing this likely won’t prevent your child from getting sick: The infection is contagious before symptoms appear. There is a way to prevent him from getting sick again, though. Strep likes to hang out on toothbrushes, so get him a new one 24 hours after he’s been on antibiotics — when he’s no longer contagious — so he won’t re-infect himself.


Its name comes from the barking-dog or seal-like cough it causes. Croup is spread by a virus that attaches to the throat’s lining and causes the upper airway to swell. Fever usually accompanies it, and symptoms last for five to seven days. It’s contagious as long as fever and cough are present.


Fevers may seem harmless enough, but viruses that cause fevers are contagious as long as the fever is above a 100.4 degrees (reading rectally). Your child is contagious as long as her fever lasts, so fevers are always a good reason to stay home and snuggle.

Thank you to Dr. Chelsea Loy for your help in writing this post! 


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2 Responses to How Long is My Child Contagious? When to Stay Home & Snuggle

  1. Rachel February 4, 2018 at 10:18 am #

    Great post! Thank you! The flu shot was only 10% effective this year in Australia, not the US. Experts have said that it is closer to 30% effective this year in the US.

  2. Christine
    Christine February 5, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    Thanks for that info! I’ll talk to my editor and see if there’s any way she can go back and change it, but if not, hopefully people will read the comments!

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