The flu is a serious sickness that many pass off as just a rite of passage for the winter. In reality, it still kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year, and hospitalizes thousands more, according to the CDC.
Even scarier: the CDC predicts that this influenza season is going to be a doozy, due to a particularly nasty strain of the virus making the rounds. So, here’s how you can avoid getting sick and passing it along to others at work.
1. Get Vaccinated
Unless you have a compelling medical reason to skip it, get the flu shot.
Most insurance plans cover the vaccine 100 percent, and even if you don’t have a good plan, you can frequently find free or low-cost flu vaccination clinics through local agencies, health providers and even your local government. Plug your ZIP into this flu shot finder from the CDC to locate a provider nearby.
Your job might even sponsor a free flu shot clinic in your office. Keep an eye out and take advantage of an easy spot to get your jabs. (Here are some tips on setting up a flu shot clinic in your workplace, if your company doesn’t know how to get started.)
And no, the flu shot doesn’t give you the flu. If you feel achy and a little off after getting it, that’s an immune response — and it’s your body acting exactly as it’s supposed to when given a vaccine.
2. Eat (Healthy), Drink (Water), and Get Sleep
It’s party season! You’re visiting friends and family, going to the company potluck, stressing over the holidays, skipping the gym in favor of the bar and generally behaving badly. Quit that nonsense right now! (Or at least dial it back to a dull roar.)
The best thing you can do to avoid getting sick is not to traumatize your body with lots of strange new stresses. While it’s fine to celebrate, try to balance your day with enough sleep, a healthy diet, regular exercise (which has been known to reduce your chances of getting the flu) and plenty of that fluid known as water.
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3. Stay Home If You Get Sick
The absolute best thing to do is to stay away from those you could spread the illness to when you’re down, and to wait that 24 hours out after your fever subsides. While daycare centers often have strict rules about sick children waiting 24 hours after a fever breaks to return to social play, the modern workplace sometimes doesn’t even offer sick days, much less tell workers how to avoid spreading sickness.
What’s so frustrating about workplaces that don’t offer sick days isn’t just the lack of pay, but the attitude that the job should come before the health of the sick worker and their public contacts. Simply put: paid sick leave keeps the flu from spreading.
4. Keep It Clean
If your cube farm is also a germ farm and people are dropping like flies, you can do a bit of housekeeping to try and keep the illness at bay.
The CDC offers quick tips for cleaning schools, but they are just as pertinent to work desks as grammar school desks. In addition to cleaning surfaces and disposing of yucky tissues with care, wash your hands with soap and water frequently — or use hand sanitizer if soap isn’t available.
Watch where you touch on your commute (bus grab bars … seat backs … door handles), in your own car and elsewhere. Do simple things like cover your cough (with a tissue or your sleeve, not that bare hand) or even wear one of those germ masks while in public.
5. Don’t Underestimate the Flu
Don’t dismiss the flu as “just a bug” and diminish the importance of avoiding it if you can. Many people are at risk of getting the flu and becoming seriously ill or even dying from it. These include children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, like those who are fighting cancer or are unable to get vaccines due to serious health conditions like asthma or heart disease.
The flu isn’t anything to sneeze at — pun intended — and you should take care to avoid it if you can. A few precautions will keep you and your coworkers as healthy as possible.
Tell Us What You Think
What other tips would you add to this list? We want to hear from you. Share your advice in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.
Disclaimer: Consult your doctor for advice tailored to your specific health situation.