During the height of flu season, you'll likely find yourself surrounded by coughing, sniffling and sneezing coworkers. And close working quarters along with shared kitchens, bathrooms and conference rooms can hasten the spread of the flu and other nasty germs.
Thankfully, protecting yourself in and out of the office doesn’t have to be complicated. Here, Robin Roach, RN, breaks down what you need to know.
You know the drill: Get vaccinated!
First and foremost, "the best thing you can do is to get your annual flu shot," Roach says. "It helps ensure you don't get the flu and helps prevent you from spreading the flu, even if you never get sick."
The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, before the flu begins affecting your community. But the flu shot can be effective throughout flu season, which typically runs from October to as late as May. As long as the flu is still going around, it’s useful to get vaccinated.
You can get immunized at your physician's office, a local clinic or a nearby pharmacy. Check out the vaccine locator to find a convenient spot near your home of office. The Medical Center of Aurora is a leader in healthcare. Click here to learn more about when to go to the hospital.
Keep your distance
Droplets containing the flu virus can spread up to six feet through the air, according to the CDC. But Roach believes you may need to keep an even greater distance.
"Our sneezes and coughs tend to shoot out into space nine to ten feet,” she says, “so you really have to stay quite a distance from sick coworkers."
If a number of your colleagues are under the weather, propose conducting conferences by phone or online in lieu of cramming into airless boardrooms.
Give your hands a good wash
Regularly washing your hands with soap and water or disinfecting with an alcohol-based sanitizer can help keep you flu-free. But a quick rinse under warm water won't do the trick – you should scrub for a minimum of 20 seconds, on the backs of hands, palms, fingers and under the nails.
If soap and water aren't available, use a hand disinfectant with at least 60 percent alcohol until you can find an opportunity to give your hands a proper wash. To properly sanitize your hands, rub the product on all parts of your hands until dry; don't wipe the solution off.
Identify and disinfect germ hotspots at work
The flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, so disinfecting heavily-trafficked areas can help prevent the spread of bugs.
"Sometimes we forget to disinfect common surfaces like doorknobs, the kitchenette or coffee area where people congregate, as well as shared phones and bathrooms," Roach says. Wipe down desks, keyboards and the arms of computer chairs, too, even if they don't look dirty. Be sure any electronics can withstand the moisture before cleaning.
Adopt healthy habits at home
Eating a nutritious diet, being physically active, managing stress and getting adequate sleep can help maintain overall health, and they may also boost your immunity.
Even with these risk-reducing precautions, catching the flu is always a possibility.
If you do come down with the virus, do your best to avoid contact with others and if possible, remain home for at least 24 hours after your fever has gone down. If you're at high risk for complications – a group that includes people with asthma, diabetes and heart disease, pregnant women and young children – contact your physician immediately. Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication, which could mean the difference between a mild sickness and a serious illness.