The frequent sound of coughing and sneezing, as well as the many boxes of tissues stockpiled around your workplace, can only mean one thing. It’s cold and flu season. While it is called cold and flu season, this time of year finds us at increased risk for a number of infectious illnesses due to more time spent indoors and in close proximity to others. As occupational health professionals we know that a bout of the flu or other contagious illness can run rampant throughout the workplace and wreak havoc on productivity. That’s why we want to present you with some tips from our Corporate Medical Director, Fred Kohanna, MD, MBA, FACOEM, on how to respond to common infectious illnesses that impact the workplace.
The primary concern during the winter months is of course the flu. Millions of dollars are spent on prevention and treatment each year. A common misconception that occurs is assuming every affliction is the flu. The common cold shares many symptoms with the flu. Therefore, a doctor must perform a nasal swab in order to truly distinguish between the two and confirm a case of the flu. Once confirmed, a number of preventive measures can be taken to minimize the spread of the flu (and other viruses). Dr. Kohanna says that the best 4 tips for preventing these types of illnesses are, “good hand washing, covering coughs, social distancing, and influenza vaccination.” Taking proper care of yourself goes a long way toward protecting you and your co-workers from colds or the flu. If you do happen to contract the flu, Dr. Kohanna notes that “you’re infectious 1 day before symptoms begin” and you should only “return to work after 5-7 days and once fever has resolved for at least 24 hours.” It is important to note that the CDC does not recommend flu sufferers return to work once symptoms subside; but, rather, after a specific timeframe has passed. This is because, regardless of someone’s symptoms, the flu virus is still active and contagious during this timeframe. Properly managing the flu once you have it can greatly reduce the risk of infecting others.
Another infectious illness threat that has received attention lately is the Norovirus, which can cause severe gastroenteritis. A new strain was discovered in 2012, and while it is no more severe than previous strains, many individuals do not have immunity to it. The CDC describes Norovirus as an “inflammation of the stomach and intestines.” This then leads to “stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea” and can lead to dehydration that requires urgent medical treatment. The steps to preventing the spread of Norovirus are similar to that of preventing the flu, and include “washing your hands thoroughly and disinfecting contaminated services. The Norovirus can survive on surfaces for days or weeks.” Hand sanitizers can be effective but according to the CDC “sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs” and “soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like … norovirus”, this highlights the importance of practicing proper hand washing technique at all times.
Dr. Kohanna recently presented a free webinar on the topic of Infectious Diseases in the Workplace. He walked participants through scenarios for how to handle ten common infectious diseases that can occur in the workplace. Dr. Kohanna provided information related to each infectious disease including, symptoms, transmissibility, treatment, and preventive measures. If you are interested in viewing this webinar please click here. Be on the lookout for announcements of upcoming webinars.