A sick colleague coughs near your desk, shakes your hand or borrows your office supplies. Situations like those can provide easy opportunities for the flu virus to spread in the workplace. As we approach the heart of flu season, Iredell Health System is sharing tips on what you can do to protect yourself and others this flu season in the workplace.
How the flu spreads
Viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs cause illnesses like the flu and colds. They are usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. They also can spread when you touch cold or flu viruses deposited from another person on a desktop, doorknob, desk, telephone receiver, or handrail. Some viruses and bacteria can live for two hours or more on hard surfaces. If you then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing your hands, the viruses or bacteria enter your body and infection can occur.
Flu prevention at work
Iredell Health System Infection Control Director Pam Gill stresses that the most important way to prevent the flu no matter where you are is simple — get the flu vaccine.
"The vaccine works by getting your body to develop antibodies to fight the flu and that process can take up to two weeks," said Gill. "You should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, if you haven't already."
Good hygiene is also key to preventing the spread of illnesses. At work, that can mean keeping your work surface clean by using household disinfectant to wipe down your desk, keyboard, mouse, telephone, doorknobs, and other objects you touch often. Avoid close contact with co-workers who are sick. Also, always remember to wash your hands often with soap and water.Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be effective if your hands are not visibly dirty or soiled.
"Respiratory hygiene is all-important if you want to prevent the flu," said Gill. "Things like washing your hands and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze seem like common sense, but those simple actions can make a big difference."
Some ways to protect those around you include keeping tissues at your desk and coughing or sneezing into a tissue. If you feel sick with flu-like symptoms, Gill says you should stay at home.
"Symptoms can include a fever, chills, body aches, runny nose, headache, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting," said Gill. "If you think you may have the flu, contact your healthcare provider. By going to work you can endanger yourself and others."