About this time every year companies start to lose employees to sickness and flu. It can cause a lot of businesses problems, finding staff to cover is often time-consuming and not cheap. But, with the cold mornings and warm afternoons we are currently experiencing, there is a need to have the office heating on in the morning and air-con on in the afternoon. These conditions give flu and sickness germs the perfect climate to spread and grow.
With the flu being one of the most common reasons for taking time off work, the doctors behind GPDQ – the UK’s first GP-on-demand service are encouraging businesses to take preventative measures to help prepare employees for flu season.
Last year, flu infections in the UK reached the highest levels in seven years and minor illnesses such as the flu accounted for over a quarter (26.2 per cent) of working days lost through sickness absence, adding up to over 34 million days.
GP Advice For HR / Employers
One of GPDQ’s leading GPs and ITV’s This Morning’s Resident GP, Dr Sara Kayat, has compiled her top six tips on how to prevent the flu from spreading in the workplace:
1. Wash your hands regularly
If you are sick of catching every virus incubating in your commuter train carriage, the best way to avoid getting ill is to wash your hands regularly, as 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch. Whilst most of us will gladly dip our hands under the taps, to have an effective wash, you must spend 45 seconds at the sink with soap, ensuring to interlock your fingers, rub the backs and palms of your hands and even your thumbs.
2. Encourage healthy habits
If you feel like you’re about to come down with the lurgy, be proactive and take zinc supplements. Studies show that zinc can speed up your recovery from a cold and reduce the severity of your symptoms if taken within 24 hours of them starting. You may also consider giving yourself a health boost by upping your vitamin C intake, ensuring you’re eating as many fruit and vegetables as possible. In addition to a healthy diet, consider other healthy habits like exercise, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, sleeping well and minimizing stress to ensure your immune system is working at its optimum.
3. Cover sneezes and coughs
Cold and flu viruses spread primarily through respiratory droplets, so ensuring that you cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze will limit the exposure of these droplets. Carry a small packet of disposable tissues in your pocket, bag or keep it on your office desk, so that you can use tissues when sneezing or coughing, then throw it away. You could also bring in a bottle of hand sanitiser to sit on your desk.
4. Get fresh air on your lunch break
Part of the reason that viral illnesses spread more rapidly during the winter months is because we often spend more time cooped up indoors with viral droplets infesting the recycled air around us, rather than being out in the great (albeit cold) outdoors. Try to use your lunch break as an opportunity to wrap up warm and get outside for some fresh air. The exercise you will get from a brisk walk will also aid to increase your circulation and thus allow the immune cells to travel freely around your body.
5. Take time off work
The flu virus is highly contagious, so it is important that if you have the flu, to avoid spreading it to your work colleagues by staying at home until you feel well enough to be back at work. Similarly, if a colleague is sick, encourage them to go home too. You are normally infectious for up to a week after you catch the flu, so it’s important to stay home until you have fully recovered and your temperature is within normal limits, without the use of paracetamol or ibuprofen for at least 24 hours.
6. Get a team flu vaccine
On average 8,000 people die of flu in the UK each year. Despite this shocking statistic, most people ignore their invite to get the flu jab as they are worried it will make them sick. This however is a myth. As there is no active virus in the jab, it can’t give you the flu – and you are most likely just to end up with a slightly sore arm! So if you have been offered a flu jab by your GP or at work, jump at the opportunity to help protect yourself and your loved ones.