5 Common Illnesses and How You Can Stop the Spread

Tips for Battling Cold and Flu Season

Author: Erin Thomson

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are already gathering for parties and celebrations with family, friends, and co-workers. Unfortunately, these gatherings usually fall within cold and flu season.

Regardless of what the seasons may bring, it’s never a bad time to protect yourself and the people around you from germs and viruses. After all, we want to be spreading cheer during this time and not sickness. Morgan Miller, D.O., in family medicine at McLaren Flint-Flushing Community Medical Center, discusses more about the common illnesses and what you can do to avoid them

The Common Cold

A cold is another term used for an upper respiratory infection associated with symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, cough, and a sore throat.

“Cold symptoms can start one to three days after exposure to the virus, but can occur as soon as 10-12 hours,” said Dr. Miller. “Typical symptoms will last 7-10 days from onset to resolution. Days 2-3 are usually the worst for symptoms and patients are the most contagious at this time, and then slowly improve after that.”

You can spread the virus a few days before symptoms arise and can be contagious for 48 to 72 hours. It’s important to avoid contact with those around you particularly those with higher risk (children and older adults) or those with autoimmune diseases. Other important tips you can do to prevent the spread include:

  • Washing your hands often and for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water.
  • Covering your coughs with a tissue or by coughing into the crook of your elbow.
  • Wearing a mask in public.

The Flu (Influenza)

“The flu and a cold can have very similar symptoms, but the flu can be more severe,” said Dr. Miller. “Some differences to look out for with the flu would include a fever or feeling feverish with chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.”

Since the flu is usually more intense than a common cold, other serious complications can result, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections that may lead to hospitalizations.

Similar to a cold, the flu is spread through respiratory droplets, and physical contact, and it can live on common surfaces. Make sure to frequently clean the surfaces of your home, including door handles and kitchen and bath countertops, using a disinfectant cleaner.

Stomach Flu

Despite the name, the stomach flu isn’t a flu at all. It’s a condition called viral gastroenteritis, which is highly contagious and affects your stomach and intestines, causing you to have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The most common cases are caused by the norovirus or rotavirus.

This virus is spread through microscopic particles that can land on hands, food, water, and other surfaces.

“The best way to protect ourselves is to avoid contact with infected individuals, practice good hand hygiene to prevent transmission, including washing hands before food prep and consumption, after using the restroom, and before touching your face or mouth,” said Dr. Miller. “Also be sure to wash fruits and vegetables prior to cooking or consuming.”

Like with other illnesses, it’s best to isolate yourself because you can be contagious for one to two days before and after your symptoms start.


Bronchitis is when your airways leading to your lungs become inflamed and filled with mucus. While bronchitis can be caused by other conditions that aren’t contagious, such as asthma or smoke inhalation, there are plenty of other contagious conditions that can lead to the development of bronchitis, including the coronavirus.

“Whether your bronchitis is viral or bacterial, you can start being contagious within hours of exposure,” said Dr. Miller. “If caused by a virus, you can be contagious for a few days to a week. If your bronchitis is caused by bacteria, you stop being contagious approximately 24 hours after starting antibiotics.”

Bronchitis can lead to other serious complications such as pneumonia. Seek care from a medical professional, or by visiting a McLaren Now+Clinic, if your symptoms worsen.

Strep Throat

Unlike the other illnesses described that can be caused by a virus, strep throat is a bacterial infection and needs medical attention for treatment.

“If treated with antibiotics, patients are contagious for about 48 hours, including the 24 hours after first dose of antibiotics,” said Dr. Miller. “If left untreated, patients can be contagious for up to a month, which can be seen in about 50% of untreated patients.”

Stop the spread by staying home for at least two days after starting your antibiotics.

While our immune systems work hard to protect us, we all get sick eventually. When we do, it’s important to take the necessary precautions that can help reduce and eliminate your symptoms.

One way is to visit your primary care provider, if you are in need of a provider you can find one who is accepting new patients here. You can also visit a McLaren Now+Clinics to be diagnosed and treated properly.

McLaren Now+Clinic has locations in Fenton and Davison with evening and weekend hours available for your convenience. Walk in or click here to schedule an appointment in advance, and take advantage of prioritized prescriptions with Walgreens to get everything you need to feel better in one visit.