Autumn is here, and it’s brought the flu season with it. It’s not so much if you or a loved one or co-worker will get sick, but rather whenit will strike. As an employer, educating and encouraging employees to take preventive action and seek appropriate treatment upon infection is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy working environment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza activity in the United States begins annually in October — peaking between December and February and lasting until May. Regardless of when the flu hits or how long it lasts, the single most effective way to prevent it from spreading in the workplace is to encourage action early.
Educate Your Employees
The CDC estimates 9.2 million to 35.6 million flu-related illnesses in Americans each year since 2010. These illnesses can range from minor symptoms to severe hospitalizations and death, and due to the changing nature of viruses, can yield differing symptoms based on the type.
It’s critical to share the following facts with your employees so they can detect their symptoms early and avoid causing an outbreak in the workplace:
- Influenza typically infects the respiratory tract.
- Early symptoms include a cough and sore throat.
- More serious symptoms include fever and muscle and body aches.
- Influenza can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, respiratory droplets, or infectious secretions.
- Secondary illnesses such as sinus or ear infections or pneumonia can occur during or after the flu.
- Most influenza cases fully recover within two days to two weeks.
Because the influenza virus is constantly changing, preparation and prevention are paramount as flu season approaches. In the case of an infection, encouraging employees to visit their healthcare provider to seek treatment will result in a healthier, more supportive team collaborating to keep the workplace free of influenza.
Encourage Preventive Actions
The CDC highly recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older and identifies it as the number one way to reduce illness and flu-related hospitalizations. For 2017-18, the CDC recommends the injectable flu shot (inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV)), rather than the nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV)). Share this information with employees and encourage them to act early.
According to the CDC, the influenza immunization:
- Is continuously updated and adjusted to more closely match viruses in circulation and, depending on the vaccine, currently protects against the three or four viruses research shows will be the most prominent (including influenza A virus, H1N1 component).
- Plays a critical role in prevention not only for the vaccinated individual, but also for community and workplace members ─ and especially for those who have compromised immune systems. Vaccination leads to protection for the entire population.
- Takes two weeks to fully develop antibodies for adequate protection, so vaccination is recommended in the early fall (but beneficial at any point in the season).
- Is offered at several locations, including doctor’s offices, health departments, pharmacies, clinics, and more. Visit this page to find locations nearby.
In addition, good hygiene plays a big role in protecting the workplace during flu season. Employers should consider the following:
- Encourage employees to stay home if they’re feeling ill. In the case of a fever, the CDC recommends 24 hours without symptoms (sans medication) before returning to work.
- Post signs that encourage frequent hand washing, especially after coughing or sneezing. Inform employees of the 20-second rule, and keep sanitizer handy.
- Provide the resources to sanitize common surfaces frequently, and encourage employees to avoid using a co-worker’s workspace.
- Promote proper health. Employees should continue to eat a healthy diet, receive adequate sleep, exercise frequently, and maintain an effective method of relaxation.
Although vaccinations and treatment methods are at each employee’s personal discretion, providing adequate information through an all-staff portal, email, or meeting can aid in workplace prevention.
Canopy Health Advocates for Health
We are committed to providing education and resources for proper wellness during flu season (and every season!). Healthier employees are more productive and help you focus on new initiatives and shoring up your bottom line as a company.
Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season. (2017, Sep 14). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm
Precautions for All Workers during Flu Season. (n.d.). United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dts/guidance/flu/protectyourself_nonhealthcare.html