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bigstock Sick Day 66507766 - Prepare Your Workforce for Cold and Flu Season

With every news program, newspaper and news website full of stories about Ebola, it’s easy to forget that flu season is nearly upon us. Unfortunately, this illness, which is contracted when influenza viruses infect the nose, throat and lungs, can cause severe symptoms and even life-threatening complications in many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population catches the flu each year.

Annually, the flu leads to more than 200,000 hospitalizations, 111 million lost workdays, and $7 billion in revenue losses due to sick days and lost productivity. Keep your workforce safe—and your company’s productivity up—throughout flu season with these tips to help prevent cold and flu.

Educate Your Employees

It may seem like common sense, but not all workers recognize flu symptoms or understand how the virus spreads. You may want to send a company-wide email reminding them to monitor their health if they begin to exhibit any of the following:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Sinus congestion or runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Experts advise that not everyone with the flu will have a fever, so this symptom is not the best indication that one has the illness. Additionally, someone with the flu may be able to pass the illness on beginning one day before their symptoms develop to seven days after they become sick. The virus generally spreads through the airborne droplets released when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on the mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) of nearby people, thereby transferring the virus.

Encourage Flu Vaccinations

According to the CDC, the very best way to prevent catching the flu is to get a flu vaccine every flu season. Encourage your staff to do so—perhaps by allowing them to visit a nearby vaccination clinic (often held at drug and grocery store pharmacies) on the clock, or by arranging for a medical professional to visit your office and administer vaccines.

The CDC recommends seasonal flu vaccines for everyone six months of age and older. Vaccination is particularly important for individuals who are at high risk for influenza-related complications. This includes adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, individuals with asthma or heart disease, and the morbidly obese.

Keep Your Office Clean

Droplets containing the flu virus can also land on nearby surfaces. Should someone touch those surfaces and transfer the droplets to their eyes, nose and mouth by way of their hands, they can contract the virus. Encourage your staff to wash their hands frequently as well as keep their workspace clean. Daily disinfecting of phones, computer keyboards, desk surfaces, break room and bathroom sink faucet handles, microwave door handles and refrigerator door handles is advised.

Create a Contingency Plan

Most people who contract seasonal flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. However, because the illness passes quite easily from person to person, the CDC recommends that individuals who have the flu stay home from work during the period in which they are contagious. This means you may find yourself without key employees at some point during the winter flu season (running from October to May, peaking between December and February). A contingency plan—including cross training multiple workers in vital functions—can help you maintain normal business operations.