When you don't feel well, making the decision to stay home from work or school can be challenging. Many of us prefer to tough it out when we aren't our best. But whether or not you can push through the day isn't the only thing you should consider. COVID-19 has reminded us that when you are ill, you should stay home so that you can recover faster, but also to protect others from getting ill. 

Unfortunately, knowing whether you might be contagious or not is not very straightforward. Here are a few of the more common symptoms, and some suggestions to help you make your decision on whether to stay home or not.

Medical Disclaimer: The Site cannot and does not contain medical/health advice. The information provided on this Site is provided in good faith for general informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or establish any kind of patient-client relationship by your use of this Site. No information on this Site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should not rely solely on this information. Always seek advice from a qualified healthcare provider for any health concern. 

Why do you think you should stay home? 

  • Do you feel sick?
  • Do you feel tired? 
  • Is a chronic condition acting up?

 

A person too tired to get up.

Is your Chronic Condition acting up?

“Six in ten adults in the US have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more” (CDC, 2022).

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Chronic diseases are conditions that last greater than a year and require healthcare management. While your condition is not contagious, consider if you are safe to get to work or be at work. Will you be able to focus today.

If symptoms are acting up today, decide how severe they are. You may not be as productive today or you may be distracting to others. You may want to rest and allow your symptoms to subside or contact your primary care provider to let them know what you are experiencing.

If you think you are sick, do you have any of the following symptoms?

  • Fever with or without chills

    Expand dropdown

    Having a fever (a temperature greater than 100 degrees F) is a sign that your body is fighting some kind of infection. Most likely, it is contagious. It would be best to stay home until your temperature is normal for at least 24 hours without any fever reducing medication such as Acetominophen or Ibuprofen.

    There is great variation in how long you may be contagious based on the specific germ you may be infected with. For example, with some infections you are contagious before the fever starts (e.g. chicken pox and COVID-19) for others, you may be infectious for up to a week (influenza) after it starts. You may even want to stay home or work from home until you feel better. 

  • Headache Expand dropdown

    Headaches may be a common occurrence for some, a rare occurrence for others, or a symptom of an infection. For migraine sufferers, headaches are generally accompanied by sensitivity to noise and light. This can be debilitating. Other headache sufferers may have them on a more everyday basis, such as those who suffer from tension headaches. These may go away more quickly after some rest and relaxation, but may return. You probably will not be at peak performance today at school or work,  so consider staying home - at least for a few hours until pain and sensitivity improves. 

    When headaches are a symptom of an infection, there is a high likelihood that the infection is contagious. If you are experiencing a headache that developed along with other symptoms (fever, body aches, stuffy nose, cough) you should probably stay home until you see what this develops into. 

    *Common causes of headaches

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Cluster headaches

    Concussion

    Migraine headaches

    Stroke

    Tension headaches

    Common cold

    COVID-19

    Encephalitis

    Influenza

    Meningitis

    Viral infection

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Body aches Expand dropdown

    Waking up in the morning stiff or achy is very common. But if you suddenly develop this and it is uncharacteristic for you and accompanied by fatigue or other symptoms, it may  be an early symptom of an infection -such as the flu. ou may want to take it easy today and rest or try to reduce your workload or duration of work for the day.

    *Common causes of body aches

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Chronic bone/joint/muscle pain

    Muscle or joint fatigue (exercise)

    Trauma

     

    Common cold

    COVID-19

    Influenza (the flu)

    Viral infections

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Pinkeye Expand dropdown

    If your eye is red with thick mucous in the corners or stuck to your eyelashes, you may have pinkeye. This is highly contagious, so don't go to work. Contact your primary care provider to see if you need any eye drops or medications to treat this. Be sure to you wash your hands to avoid sharing this with others.

    *Common causes of Pinkeye


    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Allergies

    Chronic eye condition

    Eye trauma

    Fatigue

    Foreign Body in eye

    Common cold

    Influenza (the flu)

    Pinkeye (conjunctivitis)

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 
  • Earache Expand dropdown

    If you are having ear pain with or without changes in your hearing, you could have an ear infection. Ear infections can be the result of an infection in the canal (swimmer's ear), an infection in the tympanic membrane (classic ear infection), or the result of pressure and fluid changes in the inner ear associated with allergies or upper respiratory infections.

    Ear infections themselves are generally not contagious, but you may need treatment and may not be able to function well at work if you are in pain, you should contact your primary care provider. If however, your ear pain is associated with a head cold, you can spread this to someone else during the first 2 to 3 days. You should probably take precautions to avoid making others ill. 

    *Common causes of earaches


    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Allergies

    Ear canal infection (swimmer's ear, aka otitis externa)

    Ear infection (aka otitis media)

    Sinus infection

    Common Cold

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Nasal congestion (stuffy or runny nose) Expand dropdown

    If you wake up in the morning sniffling, take stock of how you feel overall. If you don't have a fever and you otherwise feel fine, this might be allergies. An over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamine may help you get through the day. You should contact your primary care provider or even your local pharmacist to see if this may be a good and safe choice for you.

    On the other hand, if you have other symptoms, you feel lousy, and you are constantly sneezing and/or blowing your nose, you should probably stay home. But if you're only a little stuffy and it is better by the time you finish your morning coffee, it's probably fine to go to work or school.

    Be sure to wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer after blowing your nose and take care of your used tissues.

    *Common causes of nasal congestion

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Allergies

    Bloody nose

    Cluster headache

    Dry air

    Deviated septum

    Migraine headache

    Sinus infection

    Common cold

    Influenza (the flu)

    Viral Infections

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Sore throat Expand dropdown

    There are many reasons for you to have a sore throat. A sore throat can be the result of over use, such as straining your vocal chords,  it can be due to drainage down the back of your throat from sinuses, or it can be the result of an infection. Think about what you did in the past 24-48 hours. Might there be a reason for your sore throat. Next, take stock of how you feel, do you feel ill? Do you have other symptoms besides just a sore throat?  If you don’t have a runny nose and you haven't strained your vocal chords, your throat pain may be the result of an infection in your throat, tonsils, or lymph nodes. If you’re not sure what’s causing your sore throat, you should stay home and contact your primary care provider, so they can determine if you’re contagious or not. 

    *Common causes of sore throat

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Air pollution (smoke or chemical irritants)

    Allergies

    Dry or cold air

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or heartburn)

    Neck or throat injury

    Post nasal drip

    Snoring or breathing with an open mouth

    Vocal cord strain

    Common cold

    Bacterial infection

    Fungal infection

    Influenza (the flu)

    Viral infections

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Cough Expand dropdown

    If you have developed a cough that is causing you difficulty with breathing, you should call 911 and go to the Emergency room.

    Cough can be a symptom of many different conditions. If you have a chronic health condition and are being treated for your cough, you can generally go to work. If however, your cough is much worse today than usual, you might not be at your peak and you might disrupt others. You may want to check with your primary care provider about what could be causing you to have a worse cough today.

    If you developed a cough overnight that kept you awake or your cough is severe enough that it is difficult to control, consider staying home today. You may be infectious, especially if you are having other symptoms in addition to the cough. 

    *Common causes of cough

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Air pollutants

    Any inhaled irritants

    Asthma

    Dry or cold air

    Foreign body

    Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD or heartburn)

    Bronchitis

    Common cold

    COVID-19

    Influenza (the flu)

    Pneumonia

    Tuberculosis

    Viral infections

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 
  • Stomach trouble (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) Expand dropdown

    Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are miserable on their own. Trying to work with these symptoms is even worse. It also may put your coworkers at risk. Pregnancy, chronic stomach issues, and over indulgence can be some common causes of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that may keep you home from time to time, but are not infectious.

    However, there are many infectious causes of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that are highly contagious. In fact they are so contagious that simply sharing a hand towel can spread the infection. Ideally, you should stay home and close to the bathroom until your symptoms have subsided for 24 hours. 

    *Common causes of stomach trouble

    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Antibiotics

    Chronic conditions

    Food allergies

    Lactose intolerance

    Menstrual symptoms

    Toxins

    Gastroenteritis ("GI bug" or "stomach flu")

    Bacterial (e.g. e coli, salmonella)

    Parasites (e.g. giardia)

    Viruses (e.g. adenovirus, norovirus)

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Unusual rash or itch Expand dropdown

    Usually a little rash or a small itchy patch of skin isn't something to worry about. But it can be a sign of some highly contagious conditions such as herpes, scabies, ringworm, and warts.

    Bacterial and viral skin infections tend to to spread quickly. The infection may be the skin irritation itself, or the rash could be a symptom of something more serious and systemic. It is a good idea to talk to your primary care provider before you go to work. 

    *Common causes of rash or itch


    Noncontagious causes
    Contagious causes

    Acne

    Dandruff

    Eczema

    Drug reaction

    Heat rash

    Hives

    Poison ivy

    Psoriasis

    Rosacea

    Bacterial infection (cellulitis)

    Chicken pox / Shingles

    Impetigo

    Measles / Rubella

    Meningitis rash

    MRSA

    Pityriasis rosea

    Ringworm

    Scabies

    Warts

    *This is not an exhaustive list of conditions and this list should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms you should call 911 and go to the emergency department. All individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and symptoms. 

  • Multiple symptoms Expand dropdown

    Generally speaking, the more upper respiratory symptoms you have, such as fever, congestion, sore throat, and cough, the more likely you are to have something that is contagious. 

    Common colds and other respiratory viruses (influenza and COVID-19) often take 10-14 days to run their full course. You may not be miserable the entire time, but there is a gradually worsening of symptoms followed by a gradual resolution. 

    Stomach bugs, on the other hand usually last 24 hours to 5 days and are usually most severe and contagious at or just before the onset. It may take several weeks for your bowel movements to return to normal. 

    In both of these situations you should stay home and avoid sharing this with others until you are fever free without fever reducing medication for 24 hours or for at least 24 hours after your last bout of vomiting or diarrhea. 

Do you feel too tired to go to work or school?

Common reasons that you may feel too tired to go to work or school include:

  • Allergies Expand dropdown
    • The medical term for allergies that cause nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes is allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a common cause of being tired. But it is usually manageable. Your primary care provider can make this diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to minimize your symptoms. 
    • Allergic rhinitis can be triggered by many substances’ such as pollens, insects (dust mites or cockroaches), animal dander, molds and mildew, and even changes in the weather.
    • Avoiding allergens that trigger your symptoms is the best way to minimize your symptoms and help you get the rest you need. There are many over-the-counter medications that can help to alleviate or manage symptoms of allergic rhinitis. But you should always talk to your primary care provider or the pharmacist about selecting one that is safe for you and won’t make you sleepy.
  • Anemia Expand dropdown
    • Anemia is a very common blood condition.
    • Anemia is caused by low blood volume and can be the result of poor nutritional intake, chronic illness, or blood loss. 
    • For menstruating women, fatigue due to anemia is very common. Especially for women who have heavy menstrual cycles.
    • A blood test is required to diagnose anemia. 
    • If you have anemia, treatment is targeted at whatever the underlying condition is. You should talk to your primary care provider about this. While anemia is common, there are some serious causes of anemia that should not be ignored. 
    • If iron deficiency is the cause of your anemia and fatigue, treatment may include dietary changes and nutritional supplements.
  • Chronic illness Expand dropdown
    • There are a number of chronic health conditions that can cause fatigue. In fact, a health problem in just about any organ system from the brain, to the thyroid, heart, lungs, kidneys, immune system, or musculoskeletal system can result in fatigue. 
    • Sometimes, the treatments associated with conditions may be responsible for extreme fatigue. 
    • If it is chronic, ensuring that you get enough rest, eat well, and exercise may help. 
    • If this is new, getting worse, or you have never spoken to your health care provider about this, consider making an appointment. 
  • Depression/Mental Health Expand dropdown
    • Being tired or fatigued is often a symptom of depression and/or anxiety. 
    • While there can be triggers for depression such as life events, social issues, chronic illness, and medications, none of these are necessary to have depression. Depression is a medical condition and there does not need to be a reason for having it. 
    • Some people may be in a sad or anxious mood for a day. This is not by itself depression or anxiety. But if you are having more of these days than previously, or you feel this way most of the time, you should talk to your primary care provider, CAPS, or Community Mental Health
    • When you are in a depressed or anxious mood, you may have little interest in activities that you usually enjoy. You may sleep more than usual or less. You may eat more or less. And you may experience feelings of hopeless. These are all serious symptoms, and you should talk to your primary care provider, CAPS, or Community Mental Health
  • Illness Expand dropdown
    • Fatigue is a vague, but common symptom of many types of illnesses. It is often an early sign of influenza and COVID-19. It is also a common symptom associated with heart, lung, kidney, and most chronic illnesses.
    • Fatigue associated with acute viral, bacterial, and fungal infections are usually contagious (the common cold, COVID-19,  influenza, mononucleosis, pneumonia).
    • Fatigue can also be associated with a number of chronic viral, bacterial and fungal infections that can be highly contagious untreated (Cytomegalovirus, Hepatitis, HIV).
    • Typically, once the acute part of an illness has run its course, the fatigue begins to improve. But in illnesses such as Mononucleosis and post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC, formerly COVID-19 long-haul syndrome), the fatigue can last weeks or months. 
    • As a rule of thumb, if you are acutely ill, you should probably stay home and contact your primary care provider. 
    • If you have a chronic condition and are experiencing a new onset of fatigue, you may want to contact your primary or specialty care provider. While you are probably not contagious, you may not be as productive as usual today.
  • Medication side effects Expand dropdown
    • Medications effect all people differently and these are generalizations. 
    • Most drugs have side effects. Fatigue is one of the more common side effects described for both prescription and over-the-counter medications.  Whether or not sleepiness is noted as a side effect, a medication can still cause it. 
    • The over-the-counter allergy medications Benadryl™ (diphenhydramine) can be very sedating. Consider selecting a non-sedating allergy medication like Claritin™ (loratadine) instead - but you should speak with your primary care provider or a pharmacist first. 
    • Prescription medications for treating cardiovascular, neurologic mental health, pain, and many other conditions may also cause sleepiness. Be sure to talk to your primary or specialty care provider. 
  • Sleep disorder Expand dropdown
    • Unfortunately, sleep difficulties are common. We need sufficient restorative sleep nightly to function well. Chronic sleeplessness can have negative long-term health consequences. Depending on your job, you could also place others at risk of harm. 
    • Sleep terminology:
      • Insomnia:  difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
      • Narcolepsy: Falling asleep abruptly during the day and feeling sleepy throughout the day.
      • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): Restless or unsettled legs that make you feel as though you need to move them when you are trying to fall asleep. 
      • REM sleep disorders: Sleep walking, taking, or other activities that prevent restorative sleep. 
      • Sleep apnea: Loud snoring or snoring with pauses in breathing that wakes you up and being tired throughout the day. 
  • Lack of self-care Expand dropdown
    • To have a good night's sleep, you must take care of yourself throughout the day and day-to-day. 
    • Eat well
    • Get regular exercise 
    • Get some exposure to sunlight (while taking precautions – sunglasses, protective clothing, sunscreen) as your body needs light to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. 
    • Small changes can help, but you should also talk to your primary care provider. 
  • Sleep Hygiene Expand dropdown

    Eight tips to help you get a good night’s sleep. 

        • Keep a regular sleep routine
        • Avoid daytime naps
        • Don’t stay in bed awake more than 5-10 minutes
        • Don’t watch TV, use the computer or read in bed
        • Be careful drinking caffeine, the effects can last for hours
        • Avoid substances that interfere with sleep such as nicotine, alcohol, and some over the counter medications
        • Sleep with fresh air, open a window a little or try an air purifier
        • Keep your sleeping room quiet and comfortable
        • Develop a pre-bedtime wind down routine

    American Sleep Association (2022). Sleep Hygiene tips.

What to do if you are not coming to work:

  • If you are sick, and not able to report to campus, you must notify your supervisor, via phone, of your absence.  If you are unable to reach your supervisor and leave a message, you may email your supervisor. 
  • Employees who have symptoms of illness, who feel well enough to work, and are in positions that are amenable to remote work may work remotely with supervisor permission. 
  • Employees must contact their supervisor on each day that they will not be reporting to work due to illness and populate their time sheets as appropriate. 
  • Employees who have a serious health condition that may result in an absence of five (5) workdays or more, should contact Human Resources to inquire about FMLA eligibility.
  • If at any time your absence is related to COVID-19 symptoms, test positivity, or close contact, you must follow the appropriate protocol for notifying University Telehealth in addition to any steps listed above.
  • Bargained for Employees should consult their Collective Bargaining Agreements for additional guidance and information related to sick leave.
  • If you are sick, and not able to attend class, you should notify your instructor, of your absence.
  • Students who have symptoms of illness, who feel well enough to attend virtually, may ask the instructor if that is an option. The instructor is not obligated to provide this option if this is a scheduled face-to-face class.
  • Students who have a serious health condition that may result in an absence of multiple classes, should contact the Dean of students (734.487.1107)to discuss options including absence notification.
  • If at any time your absence is related to COVID-19 symptoms, test positivity, or close contact, you must follow the appropriate protocol for notifying University Telehealth (734.487.3865) in addition to any steps listed above.
  • Campus options for Support include:
  • Student employees should additionally review the “What to do if you are not coming to work: Employees” section and follow those instructions for informing their supervisor. 

Special Thank You To Our Reviewer

David M Vandenberg MD, SFHM
Vice President and Chief Medical Officer
Trinity Health St Joe's Ann Arbor and Livingston Hospitals