It's a problem: Kids and adults going to work when they should stay home.
Around any school or office, you hear them coughing and sneezing. Yet
experts' flu prevention advice is clear:
Stay home when you are sick.
The problem is, "With a lot of flu viruses, people can be infectious before
they have symptoms," says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal
medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
If you're one of those people who brag, come flu season, that you
"never, ever get sick," be aware: The odds may catch up to you. Every
year, about 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get influenza, according to estimates
from the CDC.
Taking certain antiviral drugs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms can
shorten the duration of the flu, but that involves recognizing you have the
flu, getting in touch with your doctor, and going to the pharmacist before the
48 hours is up.
Just in case your...
In fact, you're spewing flu germs even before you realize you're
sick, she tells WebMD. "They feel OK, and don't realize anything's wrong. Then
24 hours later, they start having flu symptoms. That's why
viruses are so effective at being transmitted, because people can transmit
without realizing they have the virus."
The onset of the flu feels much like a cold, she explains. "The only
difference is a higher fever with the flu. If they don't think it's the flu,
they may go about their daily business. That's especially true when parents
have to go to work, and need to have their kids in child care."
Making It Work at School: Day Care Disasters
When the flu strikes, preschools, and daycare become hotbeds of infection.
Because of the close quarters, preschool-age children are often the first
affected -- and they pass the flu virus on to family members
and others. In fact, some researchers advise that vaccinating 3- and
4-year-olds against flu might help curb flu epidemics.
Call the pediatrician first to see if you should keep the child at home,
Elementary kids are better about staying home, the CDC reports. In fact, the
flu has caused high absenteeism among students and staff at the country's
119,000 schools. When children practice healthy habits, they miss less school
-- about one-half day less.
Making it Work at the Office: Phone It In
Surveys show that presenteeism -- showing up at work when you're sick -- is
a big problem in the workforce. In 2006, 56% of employers reported the problem,
up from 39% in 2005. Most common reasons for showing up sick: Having too much
work -- and fearing missing deadlines. Nearly 50% feared being disciplined at
work for taking sick time.
Sick workers get little done. If you don't feel well, you're not productive
-- and the quality of your work suffers. You're also spreading your illness to
other employees, further adding to the problem. Bottom line: Phone it in. Stay
If the sickies still show up, flu prevention is the key for you. "That's why
the flu shot is a good idea," says Brownfield. "It's also a good idea to wash
hands several times a day, and keep hands away from mouth and nose... all the
basic stuff we forget about."
Many offices now provide gel sanitizers that you can keep at your desk.
They're also available at supermarkets and drugstores. The gel doesn't need
water to work; the alcohol kills germs that cause colds and flu.
SOURCES: Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine, Emory
University School of Medicine, Atlanta. CDC: "Stopping the Spread of Germs at
Home, Work, & School" and "Good Health Habits for Preventing the Flu."
WebMD News: "Preschool Kids Driving Flu Epidemics?" and "Sick Workers at Work