You eat well. You exercise regularly. You get plenty of sleep. You wash your hands often.  Yet, this morning you woke up with the telltale symptoms that you have been infected with the flu – how did that happen?

Chances are that you came in contact with the flu virus several days ago. Adults can start infecting others one day before symptoms start to develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick themselves. That means your fellow worker started infected his colleagues before he started to suffer with symptoms of the flu.  People with the flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away, mainly by droplets made when they cough, sneeze or talk. Think of all the surfaces that infected colleague touched within six feet of his workspace. It is likely that dozens of surfaces were contaminated in one day. In other words, you got sick by touching a surface or object that had the virus on it, and then touching your mouth or nose. In fact, every 60 seconds a working adult in an office touches as many as 30 objects and brings his fingers to his face 18.5 times per hour. 20% of the objects you touch in a day have virus on them.  80% of all common infections (colds, flu, and diarrhea),are spread through the environment and to surface contact is the primary source for disease transmission.

The good news is that by following good hygiene habits you can reduce the probability of becoming sick. Here are some easy steps to follow to stay healthy while you are at work:

  1. Use a hand sanitizer as soon as you enter the building of your workplace. This prevents you from potentially contaminating your workspace. Using a hand sanitizer in the workplace can reduce absenteeism by 20%.
  2. As you enter your workspace, wipe and disinfect your frequently touched contact points or ‘germ hot spots’. This includes your light switch, your computer mouse, your keyboard, your doorknob, your desk, your telephone. Don’t forget the bottom of your backpack, purse or lunch bag. Desks typically have 400 times more germs toilet seats.  57% of workers snack at their desks at least once a day. More than 75% of workers “only occasionally” clean their desks before eating; 20% percent never do.
  3. Wash your hands frequently during the day. Hands must be washed for at least 20 seconds after using the washroom, before and after eating or drinking, after coughing or blowing your nose, after handling money and after shaking hands. If you do not have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer. Proper hand washing is the best way to reduce the spread of germs. Dry your hands completely with a paper towel. Drying your hands with a towel after washing can reduce germs by 77%.
  4. Cough and sneeze in a tissue or in the fold of your elbow. Never cough in your hands. If you use a facial tissue dispose of it immediately. Always wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after you cough or sneeze.
  5. If you use a common kitchen or kitchenette area, make sure you disinfect the fridge and microwave door handles, the kitchen taps and all other frequently touched surfaces. Never use a sponge to clean your cup, dishes, etc. Wash your reusable coffee cup with soap and hot water daily.
  6. Use a hand sanitizer as you exit the building. This will prevent you from bringing your germs home where they can infect other family members.  And once home, never put your purse or backpack on a surface where food is prepared or consumed.
  7. If you experience many flu symptoms, stay home and seek medical care.

Approximately one third of unscheduled absences are due to illness. Every time an employee is absent due to illness, it is an expensive disruption to the business.  So keep eating well. Exercise regularly.  Get plenty of sleep. Wash or disinfect your hands often.  Disinfect contact points regularly.  Get the flu shot. These are easy steps to follow to prevent the spread of colds and flu in the workplace.