Winter illness and the workplace: What you need to know

Feb. 15, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

Coughing, sneezing and sniffling in the workplace: If this is you, you may have endured the chilly vibes of co-workers when you didn’t want to spend a PTO day to stay home. If this is your co-worker, such sounds may send you running for cover so you don’t get sick yourself.

So when should you stay home or subtly – or not so subtly – suggest that your co-worker go home?

“Unfortunately with the flu, people can be contagious 24 to 48 hours before symptoms even appear,” said Dr. Mark List, Avera Medical Group family medicine physician.

Contagious viruses are spread through airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes, or through droplets that are transferred to a surface – like a door handle – that is then touched by another.

Anyone who’s sick with a variation of influenza should stay home at least five days, List said.  So knowing if it’s the flu is important.

Fever, chills and body aches are classic “red flag” symptoms of the flu. If you just have nasal congestion and an occasional cough, you may be OK to go to work if you’re feeling up to it.

“This time of year, there are lots of other upper respiratory viruses going around that tend to be less infectious and less serious. The only way to know is to get tested,” List said.

Avera labs have recently implemented rapid molecular testing that gives more accurate results in 30 minutes.

These tips can help you decide what to do if you – or your co-workers – become ill this season.

If you’re sick:

Stay home if you have flu symptoms. That includes fever, chills and body aches in addition to sneezing and coughing, and possibly headache and dizziness. If you go to work, you’re not only putting your co-workers at risk – you’re putting their families at risk too. This may include young children or elderly relatives who are especially susceptible.

If your symptoms get serious, seek medical help. It’s possible to develop life-threatening complications of the flu. Get immediate help if you are short of breath, not able to catch your breath or not able to hold down fluids – leading to dehydration. “If you’ve had the flu for five days already and only find yourself getting worse, you should be seen by a provider,” List advised.

Give yourself some TLC. Get as much sleep as you can, take ibuprofen or Tylenol to lower your fever, and drink plenty of fluids. “Over-the-counter cough and cold medications are disappointing for most people, but if they help you, they are fine to use,” List said. Antiviral medications are not recommended unless someone is at high risk for flu complications.

Cover your coughs and sneezes. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or, better yet, into a tissue – and then throw it away.

Wash hands often and use hand sanitizer. This will lessen the chance that you will pass germs along.

If a co-worker is sick:

Encourage common sense. If a co-worker is visibly ill and complaining of troublesome symptoms, suggest he or she go home for the good of everyone.

Practice hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water every time you use the restroom. Dry your hands with a paper towel – and use that paper towel to turn off the water and open the restroom door. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy and use it often.

Keep your distance. Smile warmly when greeting others, but keep your hands clasped behind your back to avoid handshakes. Don’t engage in conversation in close proximity with someone who is coughing or sneezing.

Stay healthy. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep to keep your own immune system in shape. You’re more susceptible to catching viruses when you are run-down.

Get vaccinated if you have not yet. There’s still time to benefit from the flu vaccine as flu season can extend into spring.

In addition to seeing your primary care provider, you can seek medical help via the AveraNow app or AveraNow clinics in Hy-Vee stores in Sioux Falls. AveraNow locations also offer flu testing. Learn more by clicking here.

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Winter illness and the workplace: What you need to know

It’s that time of year: Odds are good illness has hit your home or workplace. And that leads to the classic question of when to stay home from work. The experts at Avera have the answer.

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