As Americans, we spend half of our waking hours during the week at work. Aside from ‘working’ at work, we eat, go to the bathroom, shake hands, and touch germ-ridden objects regularly. Or as Melissa Bronstein, System Director of Infection Prevention for Rochester Regional Health puts it, at work “there are more opportunities to pick up germs and get sick than we’d probably like to know about.”
The office or workplace setting is the perfect storm for germs, explains Bronstein, and during flu season when flu symptoms are prevalent, it’s more imperative than ever to follow flu prevention tips to ensure you stay healthy at work and don’t catch influenza.
“People are teeming with bacteria, and germs can live almost anywhere. If someone else’s virus lands on you, there’s a chance you’ll pick up some sort of illness.” Here are some flu prevention tips from Bronstein on how to prevent the flu and how to stay healthy at work this winter.
Aside from getting the flu shot, maintaining clean hands is one of the most effective ways to stop germs from spreading during flu season.
“Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer or an alcohol-based hand rub,” Bronstein recommends.
Flu enters the body through your nose, mouth, and eyes. Keep your hands away from those areas to decrease your risk of catching the flu. If touching is unavoidable, use the back of your hand and avoid contact with your face and your fingers since your fingers will likely pick up the most germs at your workplace.
“Use good respiratory hygiene like covering your coughs and sneezes and cleaning your hands so that you’re not spreading germs through the air. On the flip side, keeping your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes will help prevent germs from entering your body.”
Germs look to live in dirty areas. Make sure your office desk and other commonly used surfaced are kept clean throughout the winter months and peak flu season.
Keeping disinfectant wipes at your workspace is a quick and effective way to stay healthy, not get sick at work, and keep your area free of germs, especially if you eat lunch at your desk.
Your workspace doesn’t just include your desk. Don’t forget to take care of your computer screen, keyboard, phone screen, door handle and any other major touchpoints where germs can live, spread, and be picked up.
According to research from the University of Colorado, we carry an average of 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands, so lots of opportunities to spread germs during flu season.
Even in formal settings, there’s nothing wrong with offering a fist-bump instead of a handshake if it means decreasing your risk of spreading or getting germs.
If you have a common cold, sinus infection, or any flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, nasal congestion or cough, Bronstein recommends staying home. The CDC also says that employees who have a fever and respiratory symptoms should stay home from work until 24 hours after their fever.
“If you have fever and symptoms of flu you should absolutely stay home. If you have uncontrolled secretions, if your nose is constantly running, if you have a cough that you just can’t control at all, those are all signs that you should stay home from work.”
The number one thing employers can do, Bronstein said, is encourage their employees to get the flu vaccination.
“The flu vaccine is the number one way to protect yourself from the flu. The second best way to prevent the spread of flu is to ensure staff have access to hand-hygiene facilities, either sinks with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.”
Related: Best Time to Get the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the spread of flu, and the number one recommended way to stay healthy at work and remain flu-free during flu season.
How the flu vaccine works: When you get the vaccine, antibodies develop in your body within about two weeks. The antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. The vaccine contains inactivated ingredients which means you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
“The healthiest thing people can do to prevent the spread of flu is to get the flu vaccine.”
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