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How to Stay Healthy at Work

Sick days are no vacation. Because the flu virus spreads from person to person, it is possible to catch the virus at work. But there are things you can do to protect yourself at the office. And if you think you might be sick, there are things you can do to prevent coworkers from getting sick, too.

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 2 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

The most important way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine is offered as a shot or as a nasal spray. You should get your yearly flu vaccine beginning in September or as soon as the vaccine is available. The timing of flu season is unpredictable and can vary from season to season. But it generally runs from October to May. It takes about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine for your body to form antibodies to protect you.

The nasal spray is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season. The CDC says this is because the nasal spray did not seem to protect against the flu over the last several flu seasons. In the past, it was meant for people ages 2 to 49.

These people should not be vaccinated without getting approval from their healthcare provider, the CDC says:

  • Those with severe allergy to chicken eggs

  • Those who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past

  • Those who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu vaccine

  • Those with a moderate to severe illness that includes a fever. These people should wait until they have recovered from their illness.

Protect yourself

Here are tips to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your desk or with you at all times. After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, wash your hands or rub sanitizer into them until they are dry. Clean your hands after using public transportation or conference room equipment.

  • When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based throwaway hand wipes or gel sanitizers. Those that work contain at least 60% alcohol. If using a gel, rub it into your hands until they are dry.

  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.

  • Keep your work surface clean. Use a household disinfectant to wipe down your desk, keyboard, mouse, telephone, and other objects you touch often. Follow the directions on the label.

  • If possible, don't use coworkers’ offices, desks, or supplies. If you must use them, wipe them down with disinfectant first.

  • Get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available in your area.

Protect others

Other suggestions include:

  • Keep tissues on your desk and cough or sneeze into a tissue.

  • Stay at home if you feel sick with flu-like symptoms like a fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Other symptoms include runny nose, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. Contact your healthcare provider to find out whether you should be tested or treated for the flu.

  • Stay at home until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher without the use of fever-reducing medicine. Some symptoms may remain.

  • If you have a family member who has the flu but you feel well, it is safe to go to work. Check your health daily and stay home if you start to feel sick.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Cunningham, Louise, RN
  • Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd