Health Feature Articles
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
"Hand washing is the single most important thing you
can do to prevent the spread of a cold or flu virus,"
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
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 that besides hand washing, people can
protect themselves from infection at work by keeping a
"safe distance" - which is about three feet - from sick
"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
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
www.pandemicflu.gov/ , the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention at
www.cdc.gov/ or the Missouri Department of Health
and Senior Services at
Source: Eric Evans, 573-884-8984
Last Updated 05/05/2009