When someone who still has symptoms says, "I'm not contagious," is it ever true?

SAN DIEGO - When a person returns to work coughing or sneezing or just not looking 100 percent but says, "Don't worry, I'm not contagious," can you believe them?

"As they're sneezing and coughing, yeah, I've seen that," said Hillcrest resident Nancy Drew. 

Sandy Jennings of Coronado joked, "I've never done it."

"You should never believe them, though," said North Park resident Melissa Mayer.

In most cases, Mayer is right.

"I would say beware," agreed Scripps emergency room doctor Shawn Evans. He said in cases of a viral infection like a cold or flu, to no longer be contagious takes at least seven days from the onset. 

In reality, no matter how many days later, if you are still coughing, sneezing or have a runny nose, you are contagious.

"The person themselves may feel well but they could still transmit a virus or a secondary virus," said Evans. 

You can pick up a secondary virus on top of the first because you touch your face more when you are sick and your immune system is weaker. Anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu or antibiotics, which do not work on viruses, do not make people less contagious.

The Centers for Disease Control now recommends staying at least six feet away from sick people. That is hard to do in many tight office settings, and what if you do not know they are sick?

"You pass that virus 24 hours before you even have visible symptoms," said Evans.

When an infected person with germs on his or her hands touches a phone, computer mouse or door handle, the viruses can survive for up to eight hours. Then, when you come along and touch that phone, mouse or door handle, now they're on you.

One strategy would be to steer clear of people all the time but that is too anti-social for most people.

"It's kind of hard sometimes when someone puts their hand out to you," agreed Coronado resident Mark Jennings. 

But staying well may mean risking offending all your friends and coworkers.

"So be it," laughed Evans. "It's better that than being sick and they'll thank you later." 

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