Every year around this time, the office starts crawling with employees too proud to stay home and admit they’re sick. Maybe they’re not so sick that they can’t work, maybe they want you to suffer with whatever has them squinting at the bright lights and reaching for the office medicine cabinet, or maybe they just don’t know when they’re contagious and should work from home. Here are six common office illnesses, their contagious periods and how to prevent them from spreading.
- Rhinovirus (Common Cold)
- Influenza (Flu)
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
- Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)
- Streptococcus (Strep Throat)
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Rhinovirus (Common Cold)
To prevent the spread of the common cold, avoid close contact with cold sufferers and carriers. Make sure to wash your hands; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and disinfect frequently touched items like keyboards, phones and doorknobs.
The most effective way to prevent the office flu is to get a yearly flu shot. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% and can reduce the severity of symptoms in the case you do get it. Other prevention methods include avoiding close contact with those infected; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; disinfecting frequently touched items and washing your hands frequently.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Because RSV is directly related to your lungs, it’s important to avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. To prevent it, avoid direct contact with those infected; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; wash hands frequently and disinfect the surfaces that you touch as much as you can.
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)
Rotavirus and norovirus are the two main viruses behind what is commonly referred to as the “stomach flu.” The primary prevention method is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Produce should also be washed before preparing and eating fruits and vegetables. It is also advised to separate personal items from those of anyone you come into contact with, especially at home, to prevent the spread of germs.
Streptococcus (Strep Throat)
The most effective way to prevent the spread of strep throat is to cover your mouth when you cough and avoid close contact with strep throat sufferers. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, disinfect the surfaces you touch repeatedly throughout the day and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
To prevent the spread of pink eye, make sure to use clean towels, washcloths and pillowcases. Never share your face towels, eye cosmetics or personal eye care items, and disinfect frequently. Coughing and sneezing can also spread the infection, so make sure you avoid close contact with pink eye sufferers.
Six ways to prevent illnesses from spreading around the office
No one wants to get sick. Here are a few things you and your colleagues can do around the office this flu season to make it a little less germ-friendly and prevent an office flu:
Cough and sneeze the right way
Most sicknesses are airborne. If you feel a slight cough or sneeze coming, try to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, or use the crook of your elbow, Dracula-style. You can even use your upper sleeve — just try to avoid using your hands.
Wipe down your desk whenever you can
Did you know your desktop has about 21,000 bacteria, viruses and fungi per square inch? Your office phone is worse, with an average of 25,000 germs per square inch! Make sure to wipe down your desk regularly to prevent the spread of sicknesses, and always keep those disinfectant wipes in reach.
Don’t push that button!
Yes, we’re talking about the buttons in that work elevator. Literally every single person who works in your building touches those buttons on a daily basis, so the germi-ness is inevitable. Next time you get into work, try using your elbow to get to your floor, take the stairs or have some hand sanitizer handy!
Label your stuff
Sharing is usually caring, until it comes to the office flu! While they may seem safe to share, those community coffee mugs can be hiding a LOT of germs. Prevent the sharing of bacteria by not sharing your kitchenware, putting your name on your mugs and cups and thoroughly washing your things with hot water.
Swap out that kitchen sponge
Speaking of community kitchen etiquette, make sure the kitchen sponge is getting swapped out on a regular basis. Bacteria like E. coli and salmonella can form within three weeks of using a new sponge, so it’s important to swap that out to prevent the spread of germs. If you’re feeling fishy about using the sponge, try microwaving it for a couple of minutes to kill what might be living in all that dampness.
Work from home if you don’t feel good
Most office viruses can be spread before your symptoms peak and well after you’re feeling better. If you feel contagious, stay home and take it easy. Nap when you’re tired and work when you’re feeling up to it. Many organizations are flexible when it comes to working from home when you’re feeling sick. Just shoot your team a work-from-home email and take your meetings from your safe, quarantined space, and come back to work when you start feeling better.
Video conferencing lets you connect with your team even when you can’t be there in person. Human germs can’t spread through video, and everyone in the office will thank you for saving them from the rhinovirus, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, gastroenteritis, streptococcus, conjunctivitis or whatever other illness plagues you.
Hang this poster of the Six Most Common Office Illnesses and Their Contagious Periods in your break room to help us spread awareness — not the virus.