Fight the Office FluIf ever there were a time during the year that all workers dread, it has to be flu season. Sniffling coworkers, wheezing kids and running out of tissues or hand sanitizer can make the months of flu season extremely stressful, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who remains healthy. Every year, American businesses lose billions of dollars in sick days and lost productivity. Experts estimate the economy will lose about about $20 billion in productivity to workers who either stay home with the flu or come to work too sick to focus. The shortage of supply in the flu vaccination this year has increased the likelihood that people will catch the flu. This year, about 20 percent of adults will catch the flu, but here are some of the actions you can take to reduce your office’s risk of joining that number.

The No. 1 way to keep your office healthy is to make sure sick people stay home. Make sure they know they’re not a martyr or a star employee if they come in sick, and make sure your sick time policy is flexible enough to let employees stay home when they or their children are ill. For those who haven’t caught the flu, the best way to prevent it is the flu vaccination. It’s offered at urgent care locations such as your local American Family Care, as well as at hospitals and many pharmacies. These are the two best ways to prevent the flu in the workplace, because they both contribute to a phenomenon known as “herd immunity,” which prevents people from catching the flu because the density of the virus doesn’t become high enough to be infectious.

There are other ways to prevent the spread of the flu virus around the office, however. To kill the virus in office spaces and prevent its spread to other surfaces, American Family Care recommends that employers build “Fight the Office Flu Kits” for their employees. Here’s what is in them, and how they fight the spread of the flu.

  • Paper towels. Recent studies show that surfaces that have been cleaned with sponges and cleaning cloths can still be heavily contaminated, because of the germs left on the materials from previous cleanings. So stocking up on disposable paper towels keeps messes and germs from spreading beyond the mess they’re cleaning up.
  • Disinfectant spray. At least once a week, schedule a time for employees to spray everything they touch with disinfectant spray to kill the flu virus on surfaces. The flu virus can live up to three days depending on the type of surface and the moisture level in the environment, and places that are rarely cleaned are much more likely to host viruses.
  • Hand sanitizer with aloe. Frequent hand-washing can make employees’ hands dry and cracked, so supply them with hand sanitizer that will nurture their skin as it disinfects. Microbes easily transfer from surfaces to hands, and when employees touch their noses or eyes, they introduce whatever germs are on their hands into their bodies. To prevent this, hand sanitizer can work with other disinfectants to stem the spread of germs.
  • Extra pens. Sharing pens unnecessarily exposes employees to each other’s germs. People who have the flu become contagious one day before they begin exhibiting symptoms, so even if they don’t seem sick today, it’s safer to avoid sharing supplies.
  • Hand soap. Employees should be washing their hands after every visit to the restroom and every time they sneeze or wipe their noses. This can be used as an alternative to or in conjunction with hand sanitizer.
  • Sanitizing wipes. For a quick cleanup between scheduled spray-downs, use sanitizing wipes.

Many see the flu as a minor distraction or inconvenience, but it can be a fatal disease. The elderly and the very young are the most at risk for complications from the flu, but it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself if you’re not among those groups. If nothing else, it will prevent a week of discomfort for yourself and those around you. Given the cost of the flu, it makes sense to take preventive measures to protect employees. So visit your local American Family Care to get a flu shot and pick up your Fight the Office Flu Kit today!