Avoiding the Flu: What You Can Do in Your Office
By now, everyone has heard that the United States is experiencing a flu epidemic. Seniors and young children are the most at risk, and as of January 20, 37 children and infants have died because of the flu. Schools are closing, hospitals are flooded with flu patients, and even Alabama has declared a public health emergency. This year’s flu season has been the most hectic for hospitals since 2009. Experts at the CDC are saying the flu has peaked late this year, and the season could run as late as May.
This is all enough to scare anyone and tempt even the most rational of us to lock ourselves in our houses and bathe in antibacterial soap. However, life goes on and Americans find themselves heading to the office to continue with their work week. So, what can you do to help prevent the spread of cold and flu causing germs?
First, everyone who is able should consider getting a flu shot. The vaccine is designed to protect people against three or four strains of the A and B viruses that will be the most common in a given year. Public health agencies have to estimate which strains will be the most common. This year, the H3N2 is in circulation, and its especially difficult to prevent with the flu shot. However, experts have found that the vaccine effectiveness during H3N2 seasons was 33%, meaning getting vaccinated reduced one’s risk of having to go to the doctor by about a third. This of course is much better than nothing at all, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
Everyone knows they should wash their hands after a trip to the restroom, but many office spaces are neglected in terms of disinfecting. A study by Kimberly-Clark Professional swabbed 5,000 surfaces in different office buildings and found these are often neglected, but crawling with germs:
- Sink faucet handles
- Microwave door handles and buttons
- Vending machine buttons
- Coffee pots and dispensers
- Kitchen sink (should be washed with a disinfectant once a week)
Your break areas should be cleaned frequently, not just once a year for spring cleaning. As an employer, you can make it easier for your employees to stay healthy. When it comes to hand sanitizer, it’s usually “out of sight, out of mind” so place hand sanitizer in your break room and other common areas. Remember to change out moist sponges and rags, which are a breeding ground for bacteria. According to Charles Gerba, microbiologist and co-author of “The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, you can microwave your sponge for 30 seconds to disinfect.
Besides common area surfaces, you should be disinfecting your desk once a day, especially if you eat food at your desk. Remember to wipe down these surfaces with a disinfecting wipe:
- Keyboard and mouse
- Desk phone and cell phone
- Desk chair and armrests
- Pens and pencils
- Copier buttons
- Door handles
If you take public transportation to work, remember to wash your hands before checking your emails or messages. Elevator buttons and stairwell railings are also common culprits.
And finally, recognize the symptoms that indicate when you should call out of work:
- You have a fever
- You’re experiencing body aches
- You have a severe sore throat
No one will applaud you for showing up to work and spreading germs, no matter the deadlines you’re facing. Avoid being the office pariah and rest at home until you feel better. Everyone should do their part to avoid spreading flu causing germs. Don’t forget the basics, such as common hand washing and covering your coughs and sneezes!