Flu season 2013: Signs, symptoms and toxic hotspots

By October 22, 2013Management
Management Flu season 2013

Looking around the office at the coworkers I’m not seeing, it seems that flu season has officially started this year. While it may seem a little bit early for many people to be getting sick, it’s actually right on schedule. The flu generally hits Canada between October and May with a peak period around February.

On the bright side, the fact that I’m seeing empty desks means that those folks who are under the weather have the good sense to stay at home. We polled Workopolis users last flu season and 60% told us that they go to work even when they’re sick. (Interestingly, in a separate poll, 47% of people said that they call in to work sick when they’re not sick at all.)

The main reasons that people give for coming in to work while ill are that they don’t feel that anyone can cover for them, they don’t want to fall too far behind, and they don’t want to appear weak to their boss and coworkers.

This, despite that fact that showing up at work with a virus is counter-productive. Sick people don’t get that much done to begin with, and they compound the problem by infecting other people. The Canadian Coalition for Influenza Immunization estimates that the flu costs the Canadian economy about half a billion dollars a year.

Unfortunately, even if you choose to stay home are when you come down with the flu, you’re still at risk of infecting your coworkers. This is because people are contagious after become sick for a full day before the symptoms even present themselves.

The most common signs and symptoms of the flu are:

  • Sore muscles, particularly in the back, arms and legs
  • A fever that is above 38 C
  • Sweating and chills
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Nasal congestion

The other problem is that while most people who stay home when sick with the flu take two days off work, we are actually contagious for from five to seven days after falling ill. The flu is spread by droplets projected by infected people when they cough, sneeze, or touch shared surfaces. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to three days. Other people then catch the flu if they get these germs in their nose, mouth, or eyes. Rubbing your eyes with flu germs on your hand is the most common cause of infection.

The best way to protect yourself against this is by washing your hands regularly, using hand sanitizer after shaking hands and touching shared surfaces, and frequently cleaning your desk, keyboard and mouse. (66% of people do this less than once a week.) You don’t want to come near my desk. I almost never think about doing this.

The germiest places to avoid at work:

Researchers at Kimberly-Clark conducted an exhaustive two-year study measuring the hotspots for germs around the office. They collected 5,000 swabs from office buildings where more than 3,000 people work, and here’s where they found the highest levels of contamination:

  • Break room sink faucet handles
  • Microwave door handles
  • Keyboards
  • Refrigerator door handles
  • Water fountain buttons
  • Vending machine buttons

How about you? Do you stay home and take enough time off to recover when you have the flu? Does it bother you when other people don’t?

For the latest updates on the 2013/14 flu season, you can subscribe to the federal government’s FluWatch reports.

Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter