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Simple rules stop flu in the workplace


Experts will tell you that the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

But let's face it; some of us ignore such health recommendations, no matter how sound they might be. Consequently, we end up vulnerable to the co-worker who shows up at work running a fever, coughing and sneezing and putting everyone at risk of infection.

The next best thing to do is keep your distance from the sick person and follow some simple steps to lessen your chances of getting the flu, said Eric Evans, State Emergency Management Specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

"Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of a cold or flu virus," Evans said.

Most health experts say the rule of thumb is to wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds - or about the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday to You." Then, be sure to thoroughly dry them.

The flu "germ can get into any kind of wet membrane," Evans said. "The germ can live for days and days, maybe weeks. It is not a cell; it's a virus, which is basically a strain of DNA. That's what makes it so dangerous. You can't kill the germ with antibiotics."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual influenza - better known as the flu - is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person through coughing or sneezing. The flu also can be spread by coughing or sneezing on surfaces in areas of common use. In general, health experts say, most adults can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.

Each year between 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. Of those infected, more than 200,000 are hospitalized with flu complications and about 36,000 die, the CDC reported. People at a higher risk for serious flu complications are those older than 65, young children and people with chronic health conditions, Evans said.

Evans said that besides hand washing, people can protect themselves from infection at work by keeping a "safe distance" - which is about three feet - from sick co-workers.

"It might appear strange or rude, but it can prevent infection," he said.

If you're sick, don't come to work. But if you do, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, Evans said.

"Then, you should immediately wash your hands with soap and water," he said, adding that each employee should have a bottle of antimicrobial hand cleanser on his or her desk.

"The flu costs billion of dollars in lost work time each year, and it isn't that hard to prevent if you are vigilant," Evans said.

Finally, he said supervisors should make sure that common work areas are cleaned often during the flu season to prevent that transfer of germs from surfaces such as counters, conference tables and telephones.

"If you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose, you have given an easy avenue for the flu virus to enter your body," Evans said.

It's not too late to get a flu shot, which can cost as little as $10 at the county health department.

"The flu is active through March, and there is plenty of vaccine," Sue Denny said, influenza coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "The vaccine covers three strains of flu and takes two to three weeks to take effect."

She also recommended that people older than 65 and those with chronic diseases get a pneumonococcus vaccination because pneumonia is the most serious complication of the flu.

Above all else, Denny implored people to wash their hands regularly. "It's very, very important," she said.

For more information about influenza, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at or the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at

Source: Eric Evans, 573-884-8984



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Last Updated 05/05/2009