The U.S. flu season typically peaks between December and February and can last all the way up until May. During the flu season, your workplace can become a hotbed for germs capable of spreading through a place of business in just a matter of hours. Each year around 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu, resulting in a staggering 17 million missed workdays each flu season. This costs businesses an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost labor time.
For gig workers without sick time benefits, it’s imperative to remain healthy. Here are 5 fast facts you need to know about the flu in order to prevent yourself and co-workers from missing work this flu season:
What is the flu? The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza types A and B that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It usually causes mild to severe illness, but in some cases (such as people with compromised immune systems) it can lead to death.
What are some flu symptoms? The symptoms usually come on quickly and can include any combination of the following: weakness or tiredness, muscle or body aches, headaches, fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, breathing problems, vomiting and diarrhea. Left unchecked, the flu can result in pneumonia, bacterial infections, and hospitalizations.
How is the flu spread? When you think about how the flu is spread, images of someone coughing, sneezing and hacking usually come to mind (yuck!), but you might be surprised to know that the virus can also be spread by handling contaminated doorknobs, coffee pots, cups, towels, office machinery, microwaves or any other commonly touched surfaces. Because flu viruses can last up to 24 hours on these surfaces and are invisible to the naked eye, it’s easy for them to spread by human contact alone.
Is there anything you can do to prevent the flu? Lucky for you, the answer is “yes.” Get a flu shot. It’s the most effective precaution you can take to protect yourself from the flu. Your mother was on the right track when she told you to wash your hands. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds will keep those germs at bay. In a pinch, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do. Remember not to use a shared towel (those lurking, invisible germs, folks!). Instead, use a paper towel or air dryer. Other safeguards include: maintaining a healthy immune system (by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and taking vitamins), exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and staying within a healthy weight range.
What should you do if you get the flu? First, don’t be a hero. If you do end up sick, stay home from work! You’re most contagious in the first three to four days after the onset of your symptoms. Be sure to rest, drink a lot of fluids, and prevent the spread of the virus by avoiding contact with other people. Your boss, co-workers and customers will thank you!