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The flu season has kicked into high gear, reaching epidemic levels in recent weeks, and no one — and no office — is immune to its effects. That’s true even if you got a flu shot.
The current vaccine is 62 percent effective, and only 30 to 40 percent of Americans are vaccinated, said Dr. Michael Jhung, medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control in its influenza division. “Getting the vaccine is not 100-percent protection, but it does reduce deaths and overall illness, and we recommend it every year for anyone 6 months of age or older,” he said.
So what can you do to prevent rampant illness in your firm or workplace? Jhung’s top tip: Encourage your employees to get their flu vaccine as early as possible in the season, and do it every season. If there are employees who still have not received their vaccine, it’s not too late.
However, the vaccine takes two weeks to kick in, he said. During that time, you might not be fully protected and be susceptible to catching the illness from others.
You can help dodge infection by avoiding contact with other persons who are ill, covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands often, Jhung said. If you are ill, stay at home to avoid spreading the disease.
If you are unable to stay home from work, try to remain three to six feet away from co-workers, Jhung said. Covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands becomes especially important if you are sharing computer keyboards or phones among multiple people.
To help mitigate the spread of flu throughout your organization, keep common office surfaces such as doorknobs and faucet handles clean by using antibacterial sprays or wipes, said Mark Norton, senior continuity planner with Agility Recovery, a disaster recovery company. Bacteria can survive on common office surfaces such as tables and chairs for one to two hours, he said.
Norton said to make it easy for employees to practice good hygiene. Don’t rely on employees to bring in their own supplies. Provide hand sanitizer to them and keep Lysol wipes and tissues available. “Breed a culture that supports the health and well-being of employees,” he said.
Know that if someone has the flu, it can very quickly spread through your organization, so make accommodations for employees to work from home if they need to, Norton said. “If you have the ability to work from home, make sure people have adequate support and that there are not distractions — you’ll want to test this,” he said. “But on a short-term basis, working from home is better than everyone getting sick.”
Also, make sure your people can reach each other wherever they may be working, Norton said. “Look at your roster and check for updated contact information for your people,” he said. “Have cellphone information, work email and personal email so … you have good emergency contact information.”