The flu is a respiratory illness that due to its contagious nature can impact everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or location. Caused by influenza virus types A, B, or C, the flu is often seasonal, and it can become a pandemic that spreads and infects people on a global scale. While influenza pandemics are rare, seasonal flu occurs annually during the colder months of fall and winter. The number of people affected by the flu often peaks from the month of December to the month of February. While one can potentially get the flu from anywhere if they are around someone who is contagious, they are most likely to get sick from the places where they spend a substantial amount of their time, such as the workplace. It is important for people to understand how to avoid getting the flu, as it can cause problems that range from missed work and the resulting loss of pay to health complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and even death in some cases.

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of the flu at work is to first understand how germs, particularly the flu virus, spread. In order to get the flu, a person must come into contact with the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this generally happens when droplets containing the flu virus are inhaled or otherwise get into the mouth or nose. This exposure occurs when a person with the flu sneezes, speaks, or coughs even from as far as six feet away. Another way germs spread is through physical contact with an object such as a doorknob, keyboard, coffee pot, or telephone that has the virus on it. After touching the object, the virus can then be transferred if the individual touches their mouth or rubs their nose or eyes.

It is also helpful for people to recognize the signs that a coworker may have the flu. A person who has the flu may complain of a sore throat or have a stuffy or runny nose and/or a cough. They may complain of body aches, a headache, and chills. It’s important to remember, however, that a person can be contagious several days prior to showing signs and even before they know they are sick. For that reason, both employees and employers must take flu prevention steps. Employers can do their part in creating a healthy workplace by providing materials such as disinfectant wipes and sprays for staff to effectively combat germs on office surfaces. In addition, they should also encourage sanitary practices such as handwashing and providing access to hand sanitizer and tissues. Ideally, employees should avoid going to work with the flu. If at work, a person who thinks they have the flu they should not only wash their hands frequently but also always cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or turn into their arm when coughing or sneezing.

In general, everyone should take the initiative to wipe down their phone, desk, and other items that are in their immediate work area with a disinfectant or antibacterial product once a day at a minimum. This should be done whether the cleaning products are provided by the employer or not. In addition to controlling the spread of germs by maintaining a clean office and practicing good hygiene and cough etiquette, one of the best ways to prevent the spread the flu virus is to be proactive and get a flu shot annually.

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