Doctors: You could be contagious before flu symptoms start showing

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2018, file photo, a medical assistant at a community health center gives a patient a flu shot in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Flu and its symptoms are all too familiar to most people: fever, sneezing, runny nose, chills and sore throat. What you may not know is that the flu is most contagious in the first three to four days.

"You want to try and stay away from sick people and folks who have flu-like symptoms until your fever’s been gone for 24 hours," said Dr. Mike Patrick of Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Stay home don't spread it to folks."

Tracy Townsend sat down with Dr. Mike Patrick from Nationwide Children's Hospital to answer your questions to help keep you and your family prepared and protected.

Doctors say you can infect others even before symptoms develop and up to a week after becoming sick.

We are in the peak of flu season, which begins in December in Ohio and goes through February. However, doctors can see cases as late as May. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in seasons when the vaccine viruses matched circulating strains, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 to 60 percent. Local experts agree the vaccine is your best bet to prevent the flu.

"This year, it seems they've done a better job with that, which is why we're having a less severe flu season than last. You do get some partial protection, although it may not be the exact strains," Dr. Patrick said.

World Health Organization (WHO) scientists work in labs around the globe to detect and report influenza diagnosis in the northern or southern hemisphere.

“WHO makes recommendations for the predicted predominant circulating strain," said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo of OhioHealth. "That information is given to the CDC and it's up to the CDC to make formal recommendations to the FDA on what strains are going to be part of the vaccine."

The new reality is that more and more people are living in our country with weakened immune systems and less likely to have an immune response from the flu vaccine. Medical experts say people with the following conditions should stay away from others suffering with flu symptoms: cancer, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and children with chronic conditions.

Producer Stephanie O’Grady contributed to this report.