A nationwide flu outbreak is showing no signs of easing up and may continue for many more weeks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said so far more than 17,100 people have been hospitalized with influenza since the flu season began in October. The main culprit for this harsh flu season is the predominant strain, H3N2. Seasons where H3N2 dominates typically result in the most complications, especially for the very young, the elderly and people with certain chronic health conditions.
Workplaces offer many opportunities for people to interact. More interaction between people in close contact increases the risk for respiratory illnesses like the flu to spread. According to the CDC, flu viruses can spread to people from up to six feet away through droplets made by sneezing, coughing or talking. Even before showing symptoms, an infected employee who sneezes during a meeting or coughs at someone’s desk without covering his or her mouth can expose others to the flu.
Here are important steps from the CDC that employers can take to prevent the spread of this year’s outbreak:
Communicate with employees about flu prevention through emails, websites, posters and announcements.
Maintain a clean environment, and provide employees with supplies that prevent the spread of flu.
Educate employees on the following healthy behaviors and when to stay home:
Wash hands often with soap and warm water. Rub them together for at least 20 seconds and be sure to dry them thoroughly. If there is no soap and water available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gels and also let it dry completely. Washing hands at specific times reduces cold and flu transmission, for example:
Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette – covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing reduces the likelihood of cold and flu viruses becoming airborne and/or contaminating surfaces and other objects in the work environment. However, when hands are used to cover the mouth, they become contaminated. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze and encourage workmates to do the same. The tissue should be disposed of and hands washed immediately afterwards. If no tissue is available, cough into the sleeve at the inner elbow. Make sure you have a bin for tissue disposal.
Cold and flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to eight hours and on a person’s hands for approximately five minutes after they touch a contaminated surface. From there they can cause infection if the person touches their mouth or eyes. Reduce your risk of infection by avoiding touching your face, or washing your hands before you do so.
Employees should stay home if they have any of these symptoms:
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs): At work
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