Go ahead, take a sick day

| September 30, 2013

If you’ve been to the pharmacy lately, you’ve likely been asked, repeatedly, if you’ve had your flu shot yet. It’s an annual reminder that flu season is here and, unfortunately, we’re all in this together.

Influenza and other contagious illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses often thrive in workplaces, where there’s the potential for contamination from close-quarter meetings, shared cubicles, phones and work stations, and of course all those elevator buttons, door handles and bathroom faucets.

Despite this, a new survey from Kimberly-Clark Professional, a company that produces commercial washroom products, found that 59 percent of people go to work when they’re feeling sick. So, here are a few reminders for keeping yourself and your co-workers healthy.

Feeling sick? Stay home.

No one wants to get behind on their to-do list or be accused of playing hooky, but clocking in when you’re sick – and contagious – presents the real risk of contributing to much bigger problems.

Your basic influenza virus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those germs can spread to people up to six feet away. That means half of a company’s workforce could be exposed in a matter of hours. Because it’s possible to infect other people one day before symptoms develop – and up to seven days after becoming sick, according to the CDC, doctors and pharmacists recommend annual flu shots as a preemptive strike.

While taking the flu to work is a distressing thought, what’s more frightening is that flu-like symptoms could actually be caused by more serious – and still contagious – illnesses:

  • Tuberculosis of the lungs is also spread by direct or indirect contact, and exhibits flu-like symptoms, including a persistent cough, fever, fatigue and night sweats, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s also caused by a bacteria that unfortunately has the ability to remain airborne and infectious longer than other diseases. It can be deadly if untreated.
  • If you work in extremely close quarters, it’s even possible to spread meningococcal meningitis. Caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, this is an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and can be spread via sneezing or coughing. It causes flu-like symptoms – including fever and chills, nausea, vomiting and a headache – that come on quickly. It’s potentially deadly, and causes long-term problems including deafness, brain damage and neurological deficits in 15 percent of those who survive, according to the CDC. So if you’ve had a recent upper respiratory infection or experience a stiff neck or a reddish/purple skin rash along with your flu symptoms – tell-tale signs of meningitis – get yourself to a doctor, not work, ASAP.

At work? Be vigilant.

Sure, you wash your hands, but do you wash enough? The National Institutes of Health recommends rubbing your hands briskly for at least 20 seconds. And don’t forget to wash before eating – even if it’s just a small snack. If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will suffice, the CDC says.

photo of hand sanitizing station

A small reminder can go a long way toward a healthy workplace. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

If you must share a work station, phone, stapler, etc. with others, proactive protection is key. Make it a habit to regularly wipe all shared surfaces with an antibacterial cleaner – don’t wait until you hear an onslaught of sneezing, coughing or talk of sick days.

In addition, if you feel the sniffles coming on, an experiment by those revered researchers at MythBusters found that sneezing into the elbow, rather than into an open hand or a handkerchief, most effectively limits the spread of droplets and germs. (See the visual confirmation, in slow-motion, here.)

Category: Safety Tips