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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Fact Sheet: Colds and Flu at Work

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Each year, between 5% and 20% of Americans get the flu and miss a staggering 70 million work days as a result. The indirect costs? Between $3 billion to $12 billion a year.

Fact: Workplace prevention is key. Get vaccinated.

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Antibiotics for the Flu?

Ask any doctor if you should take antibiotics for the flu, and you’ll get a weary shake of the head and a resounding no.  “Viral infections like the flu aren’t affected by antibiotics,” says William Schaffner, MD, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine in Nashville.  “You might as well take a placebo.” Instead, antiviral medication can be used to treat the viral infections like the flu. But that is a different type of medicine than antibiotics...

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Both the flu shot and the nasal flu vaccine are highly effective for preventing the flu. However, they are not 100% effective. You can still get the flu even if you are vaccinated, although it's usually less severe and resolves more quickly.

To reduce your risk of sharing cold and flu viruses at work, try these five prevention strategies:

1. Call in sick when necessary. Viruses are easily transmitted in close quarters like offices. Stay home if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

2. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Viruses are primarily transmitted through mucus. Cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow to avoid coughing or sneezing into your hand.

3. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Rub your hands for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gels.

4. Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

5. Wipe down your desk and other common areas with disinfectant wipes. Research out of the University of Arizona found that telephones, desks, water fountain handles, microwave door handles, and computer keyboards in offices contain large amounts of germs that cause colds and flu.

For More Information:

The WebMD Cold & Flu Survivor's Guide

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on June 11, 2012

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