Flu season 2019: Signs, symptoms, and the most toxic hotspots at work to avoid

It’s that time of year again. Flu season is upon us. The flu is at its peak in Canada between October and May – with a spike right around February.

If you’re seeing a lot of empty desks around the office, that’s a good thing. It means sick people are smart enough to stay home and recover, rather than coming in and infecting everyone else.

The main reasons why people say they come into work while sick is that they don’t feel that anyone can cover for them, they don’t want to fall too far behind in their work, 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 as sick people don’t get that much done to begin with and they compound the problem by infecting their coworkers. 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 when you officially come down with the flu, you could still be infecting your coworkers. This is because people are contagious after coming into contact with the virus for a full day before the symptoms present themselves. So, you’re spreading the virus before you even know you have it.

The most common signs and symptoms of the flu are:

  • Sore muscles, particularly in the back, arms and legs
  • A fever over 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 can also be contagious for 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. People catch the flu if they get these germs in their nose, mouth, or eyes.

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.

The germiest places to avoid at work:

Researchers at Kimberly-Clark conducted a 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

For the latest updates on this year’s flu season, you can subscribe to the federal government’s FluWatch reports.

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