Answer: You will be contagious for at least 3 days AFTER your symptoms have stopped so stay home during that time if you can.
In an ideal world, you would not return to work while you are contagious with viral gastroenteritis, so you should stay home for at least 3 days after your symptoms have stopped. I realize that this is rarely possible. So, you at least need to wait until you are done having symptoms. You should not go to work if you are still having vomiting or diarrhea. Whether or not you should return to work also depends on what your job is and how many people you are likely to infect. If you work outside or in an office by yourself, warn your co-workers and wash your hands really well when you use the bathroom. If you work in food service, you had better stay home for the full 3 days. If you prepare food in a hospital cafeteria, you need to stay home more than 3 days. Think of what would happen to the 70-year old recovering from a quadruple bypass, if you give him the stomach flu. If you are a food-service provider click here for more info.
If you are physician, nurse or other healthcare professional, it would be unethical for you to return to work when you are knowingly contagious. You will give it to some of your patients. I recently heard a story from a friend about a pharmacist who was vomiting from the stomach flu while at work. He filled prescriptions in between vomiting episodes. That is completely unethical. It would be a real miracle if he did not contaminate anyone’s prescriptions. What happens when my 88-year old grandmother with congestive heart failure takes her medicine and gets a violent bout of the stomach flu? I don’t think she would live through it. I also have a good friend who is a pharmacist. He had a terrible bout of the stomach flu and could not find another pharmacist to work for him. So, he closed his Walmart pharmacy. That was unheard of, but it was the right thing to do.
In addition to staying home from work, you should cancel everything you have to do that is not absolutely necessary for at least the first 3 days you are well. That means you skip church. You cancel your haircut appointment, your dentist appointment, and your visit to the optometrist. My brother-in-law is an optometrist who caught a nasty stomach bug from one of his patients. The patient had told him that she was sick, throwing up the previous night. I don’t know if it was the handshake or the fact that he had to lean close to look into her eyes, but 36 hours later he was very ill. Even if having the stomach flu is not a big deal to you, it is a very scary ordeal for lots of other people. So, please be respectful of others and do your best not to spread your illness.
--Annie Pryor, Ph.D.
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