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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. However, 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’re usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

They also can spread when a person touches 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 the person then touches his or her eyes, mouth, or nose before washing his or her hands, the viruses or bacteria enter the body and infection can occur.

Flu prevention

The most important preventive measure against the flu is to get a flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccine is offered as a shot for people ages 6 months and older, or as a nasal spray for healthy people 2 years to 49 years of age who aren't pregnant. Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as the vaccine is available. It should continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. The timing of flu season is unpredictable and can vary from season to season, but generally runs from October to May. It takes about 2 weeks after the vaccination for your body to form antibodies to protect you.

These people should not be vaccinated without getting approval from their health care 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 vaccination.

  • 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. For the most effectiveness, check that the product is at least 60% alcohol. If using a gel, rub it into your hands until they’re dry.

  • Do not 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, do not use coworkers’ offices, desks, or supplies. If you need to use them, however, wipe them down with disinfectant first.

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

  • When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers. For the most effectiveness, check that the product is at least 60% alcohol. If using a gel, rub it into your hands until they’re dry.

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 health care 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°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.