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Are You Breaking Swine Flu's Golden Rule?

Staying Home When You're Sick is Key Advice That Some Find Unrealistic
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 15, 2009 -- Stay home when you're sick. That's one of the key steps that the CDC wants people to take to curb the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza, commonly called swine flu.

"Our No. 1 strategy is to ask sick people to stay home," Lisa Koonin, MN, MPH, senior advisor for the CDC's influenza coordination unit, tells WebMD.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

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Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

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Will you follow that advice this flu season? And will you do so as soon as swine flu symptoms emerge, or only when you feel truly wretched? 

If you're a parent, will you keep your kids home from school or day care when they get sick? Or only if their school or day care center temporarily closes?

How will you deal with sick co-workers who show up and cough all over the place, exposing you to their germs? And will job fears and the rocky economy nudge you to work despite being sick?

"That is a complicated issue that is even more complicated in these economic times," says Roslyn Stone, MPH, chief operating officer of Corporate Wellness Inc. in Mount Kisco, N.Y. "We're all concerned about that."

"We know that this is difficult," says Koonin. But she points out that this H1N1 virus is new, spreads fairly easily from person to person, and has led to some deaths and hospitalizations, though most cases haven't been severe.

No doubt about it -- staying home would be best for everyone. But some professionals in human resources, business, and child care tell WebMD they fear that advice is unrealistic for many people -- which could hamper swine flu prevention in the long run.


Afraid to Stay Home From Work

Stone, who chairs the workplace working group for the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, a joint project of the CDC and the  American Medical Association, supports the recommendation to stay home when sick and not go back to work until you're better.

But she knows it's a tough sell in this economy.

"People have more job responsibilities. One employee may be doing the work of two. There's no one else to fill in for them when they do call in sick, or there are fewer people -- they're stretched thinner. They don't have accrued sick time. They're afraid to be out of the office. They're worried that their job isn't going to be there when they come back," Stone says.

Philip Deming, principal of Philip S. Deming and Associates, a human resources and security risk management firm in King of Prussia, Pa., says he's heard anecdotes of workers who are afraid to stay home when sick.

"If they have any inkling that their employer may be shutting down or doing a RIF [reduction in force], they're not going to chance taking the time off, especially if they don't have vacation time or sick time or [paid time off]," says Deming, who chaired a group that wrote pandemic flu guidelines for the Society for Human Resource Management.

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