This month’s safety tip provides information on the basic precautions that can be taken to help reduce the spread of seasonal flu in the workplace. Although the flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies from year to year, it can be lifesaving for those at increased risk according to the Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu vaccine can:
- keep you from getting flu,
- make the flu less severe if you do get it, and
- keep you from spreading flu to your co-workers, family, and other people.
In fact, the CDC has updated guidance for protecting individuals from seasonal flu. Refer to the CDC website for updates on the most recent seasonal flu vaccine. Every year the vaccine is revised to protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common this season. Pandemic flu remains a concern for employers and workers. A pandemic can occur at any time and can be mild, moderate, or severe. Although the pandemic H1N1 flu in 2009 was considered by CDC to be mild, it created significant challenges for employers and workers and showed that many workplaces were not prepared. The following precautions identified below give a baseline for infection controls during a seasonal flu outbreak, but may not be enough to protect workers during a pandemic:
- Get vaccinated! Vaccination is the most important way to prevent the spread of the flu.
- Stay at home if you are sick. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve(s). Throw tissues into a “no-touch” wastebasket.
- Clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
- When using soap and water, rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, rinse hands with water, and dry completely.
- If soap and water are not available, use of an alcohol-based hand rub is a helpful interim measure until hand washing is possible. When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply liquid to palm of hand, cover all surfaces of the hands with the liquid, and rub hands together until dry.
- Keep frequently touched common surfaces (e.g., telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.
- Try not to use a coworker’s phone, desk, office, computer, or other work tools and equipment. If you must use a coworker’s equipment, consider cleaning it first with a disinfectant.
- Avoid shaking hands or coming in close contact with coworkers and others who may be ill.
- Stay in shape. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and relaxation.
- Speak with your doctor and find out if you are in a high-risk category for seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.).
- Participate in any training offered by your employer.