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December Forecast: Holiday Parties, Snow Flurries and… a Runny Nose?!

If your office is anything like mine, you may have noticed a new co-worker has arrived early this holiday season: the cold and flu virus. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a major pickup in the cold and flu season as it has crept its way into our office cubicles, common areas and is sweeping across the air.

The cold and flu season poses a major threat to businesses, big and small. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu alone costs U.S. companies $10.4 billion in direct costs including hospitalizations and outpatient visits. The CDC also estimates up to one-fifth of the U.S. population will get the flu in a given flu season, and more than 200,000 Americans will be hospitalized with seasonal, flu-related complications. Annually, it costs the average business about $1,320 per employee for absenteeism.

Businesses are striving to encourage healthier workplace habits, which include proper hand-washing techniques and the sanitizing of immediate work areas. If successful, businesses can significantly reduce the frequency with which germs are spread throughout the office.

How does the flu spread? Many experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu either cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or
noses of people who are nearby. A person could also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose, but this is less frequently the case.

If you’re feeling like you may get sick (this week alone, I’ve heard at least three people describe the feeling: “like, you just KNOW when you’re gonna get sick, you just KNOW it”), following these tips will help you get over illness faster and avoid from spreading it any further! Here are our top tips for fighting the fiendish flu this holiday season:

Wash your hands and dry them! Right now. Seriously. Washing your hands properly should take about 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing the Alphabet song. While washing your hands decreases the amount of germs on them, it doesn’t mean they are completely removed. That’s
why you need to DRY them properly, as well! According to Tork, drying your hands thoroughly with a paper towel after rinsing with water alone can significantly reduce germs by 77%! If you don’t dry your hands, it could counteract the effects of washing them and result in the scattering and increase of germs.

Keep hand sanitizer at your desk and sanitize often. You may wash your hands every time you use the restroom, but remember that we’re constantly touching office germ “hot spots” such as
elevator buttons, door handles and copiers. A quick and easy way to deflect these germs simply involves dabbing on a little bit of hand sanitizer each time you return to your desk!

Have a clean-up party! The custodians in your building may clean your office every night, but they won’t clean your desk for you. Desks typically have 400 times more germs than toilet seats,
so the best thing you can do is to wipe your entire work station (desktop, keyboard, mouse and phone) at the beginning or end of every workday.

Cough into your elbow. Our hands are constantly in contact with the world – touching door handles, office supplies and most obvious, shaking hands with people you meet. If you’re contagious with a cold or flu, coughing into the crook of your elbow or your shoulder is the simplest way to help others avoid any contact with the germs coming out of your mouth.

Clean your mugs, water bottles, tumblers, etc. I know several people who use and re-use a specific mug or water bottle every day. While you may say to yourself, “these are my germs, I have nothing to worry about,” remember that germs can fall on these surfaces and inhabit
them. Germs can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, so be sure to wash out your beverage holders with warm water before every use.

Stay home! People who are sick should not go to work. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults
may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at
least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. If you absolutely must, must, MUST come in, make a cold/flu kit for yourself filled with cough drops, medicine (non-drowsy, of course), tissues, hand wipes, throat spray and anything else you may need and keep it at your side. Also, stay away from co-workers so as not to infect them!

If you’re curious about the current status of the cold-and-flu season in your area, where it’s growing and where else it’s affecting, you can check out a great flu trends overview at Google Flu Trends.


Center for Disease Control

The Healthy Workplace Project

Originally posted on the The SkillStorm blog.

About SkillStorm: SkillStorm is a national
technical consulting firm specializing in providing managed project services,
outsource solutions, strategic consulting and staff augmentation to both the
public and private sectors.

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Tags: cold, flu, illness, protection, season, weather, winter, workplace


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