Employees are vital to the operation of any business. Taking steps now and during the flu season can help protect the health of your employees. Preventing influenza (flu) and knowing how to recognize flu symptoms are key elements. Act now to keep your workplace healthy this flu season. Read on to learn more about the CDC - Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s recommendations in the work environment.
1. Encourage workers to get vaccinated.
The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year before flu season begins. If workers have not already received the Influenza (flu) vaccine this fall season they still have time to get it according to CDC. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, especially people at high risk. High risk groups include adults 65 and older, pregnant women, young children, anyone with diabetes, asthma, cancer, heart disease or stroke, and children with neurologic conditions. If you are a health professional, please see Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Resources for Health Professionals.
Employers should consider offering the flu vaccine to their workers onsite. Consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace, if possible. If your business cannot offer flu vaccine clinics onsite, then provide resources to employees about where they can get a flu vaccine in their community. The vaccine finder application is a free online service to search for vaccines in your areas: https://vaccinefinder.org/External. Learn more about promoting vaccinations in the workplace: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/business/promoting-vaccines-workplace.htm
2. Encourage Workers to stop the spread of germs.
Good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
Take steps to protect employees and prevent spreading illness by recommending the following to workers:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick if possible.
- If you begin to feel sick while at work, go home as soon as possible.
- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm if tissue is not available. Make sure your workplace has an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes for employees and visitors. Note, see more below on the quick use of hand sanitizers.
- Wash your hands often to help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the workplace, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to help remove germs. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Employer recommendations for preventing the spread of flu at work:
- Provide workers with up-to-date information on flu risk factors and preventive actions. For example, encourage respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, and easy access to tissues and trash cans. Also encourage hand hygiene by providing education and reminders about washing their hands, and easy access to running water and soap or alcohol-based hand rubs. Note, see more below on the quick use of hand sanitizers.
- Instruct employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with the flu, that they can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day and notify their supervisor and stay home if they become sick. Employees who have a certain underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should promptly call their health care provider for advice if they become sick.
- Cross-train workers on jobs so they can cover for a worker in case they get sick or a family member gets sick and has to stay home.
- Develop and review sick leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.
- Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever* (temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher) is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Note: Not everyone with flu will have a fever. Individuals with suspected or confirmed flu, who do not have a fever, should stay home from work at least 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms. Persons with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness.
- Sick employees should be asked to go home. Employees who appear to have a flu symptom upon arrival or become sick during the work day should be promptly separated from others and asked to go home.
- Develop other flexible policies to allow workers to telework (if feasible) and create other leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.
- Provide resources and education about employees who may be at high risk for serious flu complication, such as pregnant women or adults with a chronic medical condition such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes. Flu vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for flu complications. Individuals at high risk for flu complications should seek medical attention right away if they do become sick with flu.
*Many authorities use either 100 (37.8 degrees Celsius) or 100.4 F (38.0 degrees Celsius) as a cut-off for fever, but this number actually can range depending on factors such as the method of measurement and the age of the person, so other values for fever could be appropriate. CDC has public health recommendations that are based on the presence (or absence) of fever. What is meant by this is that the person’s temperature is not elevated beyond their norm.
Quick use of hand sanitizers may not be enough to kill flu virus
According to a recent research study from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, Japan, researchers want health care professionals to understand the limits of hand sanitizers. Their study showed that ethanol-based sanitizers can take up to four minutes to disinfect hands that carry the flu virus. The thick viscosity of mucous seems to protect the virus from the impact of hand sanitizers. When mucous is wet, the active virus can remain on the hands when the sanitizer is on the hands for less than four minutes. The researchers encourage the use of handwashing to deactivate the virus. The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water, but if these are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is suggested. The agency recommends rubbing hand sanitizer on all surfaces of your hands and fingers until dry, which should take about 20 seconds. The Kyoto researches, however, note that 80% ethanol-based hand sanitizers are most effective.
3. Encourage Workers to Recognize Symptoms Early & Follow Treatment
Know the Symptoms
Influenza (flu) can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- fatigue (tiredness)
- some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
According to CDC, most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.). CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have flu infection or suspected flu infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
You might need flu antiviral drugs to help treat the flu. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from flu (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
If you get sick:
- Take Antivirals Drugs, if prescribed by a doctor
- Take everyday precautions to protect others while sick
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.
- Stay home until you are better
- 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. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
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