Published on October 18, 2022

Woman with Cold in Office

Sick? When to Tough it Out and When to Stay Home

Do your job. Here in the Midwest, our strong work ethic is almost taken for granted.

However, when you’re sick, it’s better to set aside this attitude instead of “gutting it out.” That way you’re not potentially shedding a virus around the workplace. This is especially true for anytime you’re experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, which could be a sign of COVID-19.

When should I stay home?

Scott Hiltunen, MD, an Avera Medical Group internal medicine physician, said we can all use a bit more education on this topic. When we’re running a temperature, coughing or suffering from symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, we’re more than likely making others ill.

“You’re actually not helping your business, company or team by coming in sick, because when you do, you’ll share the sickness. You probably won’t be too productive anyway and someone may take those germs and share them,” he said. “What if your coworker gets sick and passes that to an infant or elderly person? You’re doing everyone more of a favor by just staying home sick and getting better.”

Too often, people go in, figuring it’s expected. But when employers push people to come in, it’s counterintuitive. That sick employee will spread it around, and then you’ll be even more short-handed.

If you feel something coming on, there are some guidelines that can help you make the best decision and be healthy again soon.

  • Treat symptoms early on and aggressively with over-the-counter medicines.
  • Take multivitamins, especially ones with plenty of zinc, to try and zap the germs upfront.
  • Hydrate and rest as much as you can to fight the sickness from progressing.

Should I Go to Work with a Fever?

A fever is one clear sign of sickness. If your fever is 100.5 degrees or higher, stay home. Other signs that you’re too sick to go to work include:

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Confusion

Try to take care as best as you can for the first 48-72 hours. That’s because this is the time when you’re most likely to unknowingly share it with coworkers.

Even doctors stay home and recover instead of coming in, so we practice our own advice — and we hope you will as well. Respect yourself, your coworkers and their families — as well as your customers — enough to know we’ll see you back at work when you’re feeling better.

What Happens if You Get the Flu or COVID-19

“If you have an active cough or a low-grade fever, consider whether or not you could have the flu — especially if you didn’t get the vaccine,” Hiltunen said. “It’s important to remember that flu treatments we can provide work best if patients get them right away.”

Anytime you have cold or flu-like symptoms, it’s important to be tested for COVID-19 before you risk exposing others. If an at-home test is positive, you can trust that it’s accurate, and you should isolate yourself at home. If the at-home test is negative, you may want to confirm with a PCR test at your clinic or pharmacy. An at-home test might not show a positive result until you are a few days into the virus.

Even if you’re vaccinated, it could be a breakthrough case of COVID-19. And even if you’ve had it in the past, you can get it again.

Some May Need to See Their Doctor

Young children, older folks and anyone with a compromised immune system, such as chemotherapy patients, should get to their doctor’s office right away when facing symptoms. If that fever goes up to or exceeds 102 degrees — especially after taking ibuprofen to tamp it down — it’s time to go see your doctor.

“When we get calls on this, we usually ask if the person is pale or has headache and confusion, or if they seem to be in distress,” Hiltunen said. “If they do, they are asked to come in so we can make sure they are OK.”

Virtual visits via smartphone or laptop also can help, especially for those people who’d prefer to be seen without leaving home.

Stay Home and Take Care of Yourself

Once you’ve decided to stay home, use over-the-counter medicine to treat symptoms and, yes, have chicken soup and juice, because they offer vitamins and comfort that will help.

Hydration helps your body fight the germs, but it’s a myth to believe that you can “flush” your system faster. Even mild dehydration can worsen symptoms or make them linger.

Understand and fight for your health against COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and other respiratory diseases. That way, you're prepared to protect yourself, your loved ones, coworkers and your community.


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