flu season

Break out the sanitizing wipes. The 2019-2020 flu season is escalating fast, with the CDC warning there’s a 40 percent chance of a peak in December, a 30 percent chance of a peak in January.

And as the virus takes off, workplaces become breeding grounds for disease.

When someone comes to work sick, about half the commonly-touched surfaces in the office will become infected with the virus by lunchtime, according to a study at the University of Arizona.

The flu causes U.S. employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays due to flu, according to the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity.

Because most workers who come to work sick pass along germs at the office, the CDC is urging anyone with flu symptoms to stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone — except to get medical care or for other necessities.

A recent study from commercial cleaning company Stratus Building Solutions lists “top germ hot spots” in offices, including: doorknobs, elevator buttons, microwaves, fridges, vending machines, water coolers, sink sponges, coffee stations, keyboards, phones, makeup cases, copier machines, shared pens and shared staplers.

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The CDC has issued “10 Tips for Preventing the Spread of Flu at Work.”

  1. Encourage all employees to get a seasonal flu vaccine each fall. CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. Getting the flu shot in October is ideal, but it’s not too late.

  2. Host a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace or provide resources to employees about where they can get a flu vaccine in their community. The vaccine finder application is a free online service: https://vaccinefinder.org/

  3. Have sick leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.

  1. Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever* (temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher) is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines.

Note: Not everyone with flu will have a fever. Individuals with suspected or confirmed flu, who do not have a fever, should stay home from work at least 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms. People with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness.

  1. Sick employees should be asked to go home. Employees who appear to have a flu symptoms upon arrival or become sick during the work day should be promptly separated from others and asked to go home.

  2. Develop other flexible policies to allow workers to telework (if feasible) and create other leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.

  3. Instruct employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with the flu, that they can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, and notify their supervisor and stay home if they become sick.

  4. Provide resources to reduce the spread of flu, like tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, and hand sanitizer.

  5. Offer up-to-date information on flu risk factors and preventive actions.

  6.  Provide resources and education about employees who may be at high risk for serious flu complication, such as pregnant women or adults with a chronic medical condition.