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Holiday health: How to not give the gift of germs

A few things to keep in mind if you have the sniffles before those holiday gatherings.

CLEVELAND — As the holiday season continues, we answer some of your questions about keeping both yourself and those around you healthy.

How long am I contagious?

Let’s start with COVID-19. This one is tricky, because it depends on how much virus you have in your system and which variant infected you.

The current theory is you are contagious a day before your symptoms appear and at least three days after. Those who have a bad infection with a lot of coughing and upper respiratory symptoms are likely much more infectious.

The CDC says those with moderate to severe symptoms should isolate for 10 days. Once your symptoms improve and you haven't had a fever for 24 hours, you can end isolation but should still wear a mask through day ten. You can take off the mask if you have two negative tests 48 hours apart.

If you have a mild case, consider yourself infectious five days from the start of symptoms or five days after a positive test. This all said, there's still a lot we just don't know, so experts lean to more caution and advise masking up around vulnerable people.

Infectiousness is like COVID for flu and other respiratory viruses — day before symptoms and a few days after. If you have a fever, you may be infectious longer. A good rule to go by is, if you still have symptoms, stay home and keep your germs to yourself.

Is it too late to get a flu shot before Christmas?

It’s never too late, but it typically takes two weeks for you to build antibodies that protect against the flu. That said, if you're exposed to influenza between now and then, you may still get sick, but likely not as sick as you would without the vaccine.

You may also get sick if you're exposed to one of the other dozens of viruses floating around. The shot only protects you against influenza, not the other illnesses.  

This year's flu shot contains the strain of the virus we're seeing most of: H3N2. Typically, this is nasty version of flu, but it also contains three other strains that may pop up, as well.

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