"Most people suffer from two respiratory viral infections per year," said Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "Some of that [attendance] can also come from underlying constitution and personality. Just like how much people are more tolerant to pain, some people feel symptoms larger than others."
For some people, Ohl said symptoms can be disabling but others have a much easier time handling them.
Dr. Susan Rehm, vice chair of the department of infectious disease at Cleveland Clinic, said that cold and flu are often lumped into the same category, but it's important to understand the distinction between the two.
"There are times when we have a fever and muscle aches which make it impossible to go to work," said Rehm. "But the majority of the time, it's a gray zone. We don't feel well but maybe not sick enough to stay home, so how do we make that determination?"
The flu, often used to describe gastrointestinal problems or cold symptoms, is actually a respiratory virus. It has a much more abrupt and severe start than a cold. Usually, head and muscle aches come on quickly with the flu, and a fever and cough follow soon after. A cold has a gradual onset, characterized by a stuffy nose and a scratchy throat.
To prevent the flu, doctors say to get a flu shot, wash your hands regularly, and be mindful by using tissues and covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing. While they seem like simple remedies, such precautions can greatly reduce the spread of illness.
Doctors recommend keeping a social distance and avoiding crowds to reduce the spread of influenza.
"If you have any type of respiratory illness with a fever, you should stay home because influenza is pretty contagious," said Dr. Ohl. "But if we stayed at home every time we had the sniffles, there wouldn't be a lot of work productivity."
And school-aged children are some of the most important to watch, since they can give and get the flu quickly and easily.
"Children are nothing more than Petri plates we send to school and spread germs," said Ohl. "If everyone stays home when sick, we can reduce transmission."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. Most people do not need antiviral drugs.
But young children, people 65 or older, those with asthma and diabetes, and women who are pregnant are at higher risk of influenza complications and should talk to their doctor to see if they need further help. People who do visit the doctor should wear a face mask to avoid spreading the flu.
On average, children tend to be infected for five to seven days while adults are infected for about three to five days, depending on their experience and whether they've been vaccinated.
The CDC says that a person with the flu should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever has gone away on its own without the help of an analgesic.
But, even though a classroom can be a breeding ground for germs, Dattolo says infections and coughs and fevers are not things to worry about.
"Sometimes people tell me, 'take a day off once in a while, you'll feel great,'" said Dattolo. Yes, teaching can definitely wear on you, but I take life day by day."
"I love teaching and as long as I love it, I'm going to keep on doing it," he said. "That's my medicine, so to speak."