How do you avoid the flu when everyone around you at work has already caught it? SASHA GONZALES shares a few prevention tips from the experts.
How to avoid getting sick when there’s a flu bug going around.
Tips for Staying Bug-free:
hen one of my colleagues catches the flu, there’s just no way I won’t catch it,” says Linzi Chua, 35, an accountant. “No matter how many vitamin C supplements I consume, the dreaded bug somehow always finds its way to me during flu season.”
From your desk phone to the water cooler and photocopy machine, your office is a hotbed for germs. Charles Gerba, a “germ expert” and professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, says that during the flu season, about one-third of commonly touched surfaces in the office will have diseasecausing germs.
Coupled with poor air circulation and close proximity with other employees, it’s little wonder that even the healthiest among us become vulnerable to the flu when it hits the workplace.
The flu virus is often present in the respiratory secretions of infected persons, says Dr Linda Hui, chief physician at Matilda Medical Centre in Hong Kong. The virus can be transmitted through sneezing, coughing, talking, and through contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with these respiratory droplets.
So how do you protect yourself when everyone around you is hacking away or sneezing? Take these tips.
• WIPE DOWN SURFACES
Use disinfecting wipes once a day on your work surfaces – including office door handles – to kill germs or viruses that may be lurking on them, suggests Dr Shiv Gill, a general practitioner from My Health Partners Medical Clinic. Some viruses can live on surfaces for as long as 72 hours.
• BIN IT
Ensure that waste bins around the office are emptied regularly. Soiled tissue paper is teeming with germs and should not be left lying around on desks. A lidded waste bin may also help prevent the flu virus from spreading, says Dr Hui.
• KEEP THINGS CLEAN IN THE PANTRY
Don’t leave your coffee mug in the pantry sink overnight – germs and viruses can linger there. Immediately after using your mug, wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water and dry it using a paper towel. Wash and dry it again the next morning before using it.
• OPEN UP
If your office does not have central air-conditioning, open the windows to improve the indoor ventilation and air circulation, suggests Associate Professor Lee Yuan Kun from the Department of Microbiology at the National University of Singapore. When there is adequate ventilation, the virus may spread less easily.
• CONTROL AIR QUALITY
A portable air purifier may help improve the quality of the air in your office by filtering out harmful cold and flu viruses, says Dr Gill. Be sure to change the water in it regularly.
• STEER CLEAR OF SICK COLLEAGUES
Hopefully, they will have the sense to stay home and rest, but if they are showing early signs of the flu – for example, watery eyes and a runny nose – then it’s best not to get too close to them, says Dr Gill. Try to communicate with them over the phone or through e-mail, and if you have to see them in person, you should both don masks to prevent spreading and breathing in microscopic airborne viruses.
• DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE
Touching your face, especially your nose and mouth, is an easy way of getting infected by germs that you may have picked up when touching a contaminated surface, says Dr Gill, so keep your hands away from this part of your body.
• WASH YOUR HANDS
It’s a basic hygiene rule but one that we neglect when we’re pressed for time. Always wash your hands thoroughly (for at least 15 seconds) and with soap after using the bathroom, Dr Hui advises. This gets rid of germs that you might have come into contact with. Wash your hands too after using shared items such as the photocopying machine, cabinets, refrigerator, microwave and water cooler.
• GET A SHOT
Dr Hui suggests getting a flu vaccine as a preventive measure. But discuss this with your health-care practitioner first, because it may not be the best solution for you.
Dr Gill explains that a vaccine is appropriate for those under five or over 60 years old, people travelling to a place where there is a flu outbreak, women who are pregnant, health-care workers, and people who are already in poor health. And getting a shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t catch a flu or cold virus.
• PUT YOUR HEALTH FIRST
When your immune system is strong, it is better able to resist viral infections. Boost your immunity by making sure you are in the best possible health, says Dr Gill. That means eating a balanced diet that includes vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, and getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep.