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Colds and Flu
Nov 2, 2000

Hi there..

I have AIDS and try to avoid being around people with colds and the flu, BUT I have a question about when someone is contagious. Is a person with a cold or the flu contagious before symptoms appear, during the coughing or sneezing period, or both?? I have heard a variety of answers to this questions over the years, but thought I would go to the experts for the definitive answer..

Thanks so much

Response from Dr. Stryker

It mostly depends on the type of "cold" one has -- many different viruses and bacteria can cause symptoms that people refer to as a "cold" or the flu. As a general rule, people catch these through breathing air that is contaminated with the little bug, and it goes on to infect their respiratory lining/tissues. One is contagious from shortly after infection and during the acute coughing and sneezing phase. So in many cases, you could be exposed to a contagious person who has few if any symptoms. Intimate contact like kissing could pass on the infection before the coughing starts.

Hope this helps; as a practical consideration, I'm afraid it probably doesn't add much to what you already knew or suspected! Avoid sick people, wash hands frequently, and avoid rubbing your hands on your nose. Best, RAS

Rick Stryker, M.D., M.P.H.



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