Six things to know about cold and flu season in the workplace


Jan. 18, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 17, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.

It begins simply enough - a slight sniffle, maybe. Perhaps a tickle in the throat.

Before you know it, there are aches, some drowsiness and then that tell-tale first sneeze.

You guessed it; you're coming down with something. But you probably aren't alone.

Cold and flu season is in full swing throughout the United States, sending people home from work for a bit of rest, recuperation and a cup of chicken soup.

Still, just because others around you fall prey to the illness doesn't mean you have to.

Here are a few things to know about cold and flu season and how to avoid getting sick.

Know what you're up against.

Each year, flu season brings almost 111 million lost workdays because of illness, and it peaks in January and February. That adds up quickly to about $7 billion annually in sick days and lost productivity. Preventative measures and a healthy overall lifestyle - nutritious diet, adequate exercise and the like - can help keep you from getting sick.

One little shot can make a big difference.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the flu shot as the best way to ward off that nasty bug each season, and an estimated 138 million to 145 million doses of the vaccine were produced for the U.S. market this year.

Such vaccines protect against the three strains of influenza viruses expected to be most common throughout the season. Still, the flu virus is constantly changing, and it's impossible to predict with 100 percent accuracy which viruses will reign supreme from one season to the next.

A few strategic measures can help guard you against sick coworkers.

Wiping down shared surfaces - computer keyboards, break room microwaves, staircase railings and more - with alcohol-based antibacterial wipes can kill off lingering germs while washing your hands regularly and using hand sanitizer also helps.

Avoid using other people's phones. Meanwhile, cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze to avoid spreading germs of your own. If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm.

Mind the coffee mug.

Consider switching to disposable cups during cold and flu season, as your trusty mug might fall prey to an errant cough or sneeze in the break room. Once the season ends, give the mug a good scrub and continue on with regular use.

It's OK to call in.

A survey issued by Kimberly-Clark Professional reported that 59 percent of people go to work while sick. But whether you feel guilty about missing out on work or feel the office can't get by without you, remember: A sick day sometimes is the best option. Not only will the rest help you get back on your feet, but you'll also protect coworkers from falling ill.

Don't get discouraged.

You might follow every preventative measure in the book but still find yourself falling ill. If that happens, take it in stride and take steps to get better. That means getting plenty of rest, taking in clear fluids and avoiding contact with others, among other things.

Sources: Lawrence Semander, pharmacist at Goliad Pharmacy & Gifts; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website; Kimberly-Clark news release; Occupational Safety and Health Administration website; Vicks website.



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