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What to do when you are sick with COVID-19, flu, RSV or another respiratory virus

Information on this page will help you understand if you need to isolate and what steps to take. 

See the glossary for explanations of terms used on this page.

What to do if...

I have symptoms of a respiratory virus like COVID-19, flu, or RSV

Anyone who has symptoms of a respiratory virus like COVID-19, flu, or RSV should stay home and isolate away from other people. Symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and headache that cannot be explained by another reason. 

If you can, isolate from others in your home who are not sick. You should isolate even if you are up to date on your vaccines.

Wait to return to normal activities until the following are both true for at least 24 hours:

  1. Your symptoms are getting better overall, and 
  2. You have not had a fever (and you are no longer using medications for fever like Tylenol).

When your symptoms are getting better, you should be able to do normal activities with good energy. For most people, cough and runny nose should be gone or infrequent. 

When you go back to normal activities, take precautions for the first 5 days in case you are still contagious, including:

  • Wear a high-quality mask with a tight fit under your nose and chin (N95 masks work well)
  • Clean indoor air (164 KB) with HEPA filters and take steps to improve air flow 
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Clean surfaces and other items that people touch
  • Keep physical distance from other people when you have symptoms
  • Test if possible before you will be around other people indoors.

If you are sick, talk to your doctor right away about testing and treatment. You may be eligible for treatment if you are at high risk, even if your symptoms are mild. If you have an emergency warning sign (like trouble breathing or chest pain), call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately.

I tested positive for a respiratory virus but never had any symptoms 

If you never had symptoms but tested positive for a respiratory virus, you may still be contagious. Take added precautions for the next 5 days including wearing a mask, physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene, and testing when you will be around other people indoors.

I have symptoms of a respiratory virus like COVID-19, flu, or RSV and I spend time or live with people at higher risk of getting very sick

If you live with or spend time with people at high risk from getting very sick, such as older adults, pregnant people, young children, and people with weakened immune systems, the safest thing you can do is stay away from them:

  • For 10 days after symptoms start, OR
  • For 10 days after testing positive if you never got symptoms, OR 
  • Until you get a negative test result from a COVID-19 antigen test after testing positive for COVID-19

I was in close contact with someone who had a respiratory virus like COVID-19, flu, or RSV

After you have been exposed to COVID-19 or another respiratory virus, it is important to take steps right away to avoid spreading it to others in case you get sick, such as: 

If you develop symptoms, get tested and get treatment if eligible. Isolate at home and away from others, and follow the steps above before returning to normal activities.

For healthcare professionals

Respiratory virus guidance has not changed for healthcare professionals. If you think or know you had COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses, you should notify your employer and follow the same recommendations listed above for when you can go back to normal activities outside the workplace. When you can return to work depends on different factors and situations – ask your employer for guidance.

For information on when you can return to work, see: Criteria for Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with SARS-CoV-2 Infection (CDC Interim Guidance).


Glossary terms

Close contact

A close contact is someone who is less than 6 feet away from an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

Exposed

You are considered exposed to COVID-19 if you have been less than 6 feet away from an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

High-quality, well-fitting mask

A well-fitting mask covers your nose and chin, without gaps around the face. Masks that are loose, with gaps around your face or nose, are not as helpful in protecting you or others.

Wear the best quality mask you can get. Higher quality masks are better at filtering out the virus. Examples, in order of quality are:

  • Certified N95, KN95, or KF94 masks
  • Surgical masks
  • Cloth masks with multiple layers of breathable, tightly-woven fabric

Isolation

Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

Up-to-date (with your COVID-19 vaccines)

You are considered up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines when you have completed your initial series of vaccinations and all recommended booster shots that you are eligible for. When you are up-to-date with your vaccines, you get the maximum protection available. Some people with weakened immune systems will need more doses to be up-to-date.

Read the latest information and updates from the CDC.

Weakened immune system

People can have weakened immune systems because of certain conditions, like AIDS, cancer, and diabetes, or because of certain medications and treatments, like chemotherapy. People with weakened immune systems may be more likely to get very sick from COVID‑19.

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