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The workplace can represent different things for different people: a means to provide for the family, an opportunity to be part of a team and work toward a common goal, a way to give back to the community and the list goes on. But one common thread between office buildings, geographical areas, teams, and industries is that we’re all looking to find ways to avoid getting sick at work during flu season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season starts to pick up steam in October and peaks between December and February. While the timing and duration of flu season varies from one year to the next and even from strain to strain, occurrences sometimes linger all the way until May. Think about that. This means flu season has the potential to last for more than half of the year!
Employees miss about 17 million workdays each year due to the flu. The 2017-2018 season included the highest rate of flu activity since 2009, resulting in an estimated 48.8 million people getting sick with influenza, 22.7 million people going to a health care provider, 959,000 hospitalizations and 79,400 deaths. These staggering numbers might make you want to crawl into a cave and hibernate, but unfortunately, that isn’t always conducive to maintaining a career.
As adults who spend most of their waking hours working in an office during the week, there is a high probability of exposure to the flu via coworkers. And in order to know how to prevent contracting the flu, we must first understand how influenza is spread. The Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) warns that early on in infection, even before symptoms become evident, a contagious person can begin shedding the virus and infecting the people around them. It has been found that influenza viruses can survive for:
Up to an hour in the air in enclosed environments
More than eight hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic
Up to five minutes on hands after transfer from other surfaces
With this in mind, here are some tips for preventing flu infection this and every season:
Less handshaking, more fist-bumping – Although a good firm handshake is a professional courtesy in the workplace, fist bumps are trending. The perk: keeping germs off of your palms! If you must shake a hand, wash your hands after. It is not recommended or realistic to go running to the bathroom after every interaction, but subtly making your way to a lavatory or break-room sink is a good idea whenever possible. Which brings us to the next suggestion…
Get your hands on an antibacterial hand sanitizer – Keep antibacterial hand sanitizers at your desk and use them whenever you touch communal office equipment, shake a hand or somebody hands you something. Washing your hands is always best, but hand sanitizer is a good backup to kill bacteria and viruses.
Keep good space between yourself and others – Unless you have a large bubble you can wear to work, try to keep out of the airways of others. Don’t talk too close with others or stand within the “shooting range” of an unexpected sneeze or cough.
Boost your immune system – It is important to keep your immune system as strong and healthy as possible, especially when we are more vulnerable to disease and viruses in shared spaces like the office. Plenty of sleep, proper nutrition, drinking lots of water, regular exercise and minimizing stress are all necessary for keeping your immune system at its best.
Be your own advocate for proper healthcare and optimal nutrition for YOU – Beyond maintaining a generally healthy diet, it is imperative that we eat right for our individual systems. Because everybody responds to different foods in a unique way, this too can affect our immune systems. If we are exposed to something that our body might be sensitive to, it can weaken our immune system or trigger a negative autoimmune response. So if you are aware of foods that don’t settle well with you, try to avoid them during the flu-laden, vulnerable time of the year. If you suspect you may have sensitivities to foods or have what you believe to be an autoimmune response to them, consider speaking with your health care professional about food reactivity testing like the Cyrex Laboratories Array 10 blood panel.
There are several respiratory viruses that can circulate around the office during flu season that can cause symptoms and illness similar to those seen with a flu infection, such as rhinovirus (one cause of the “common cold”) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Therefore, exercising precaution and following these guidelines for avoiding the flu at the office this season will give you your best opportunity for a sniffle-free season.