The 2017-2018 flu season was particularly brutal in California, claiming the lives of more than 300 people. That’s more deaths than occurred during the previous three flu seasons combined. And it’s the second highest total in California since the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-10.
It’s impossible to predict if the next flu season will be as bad, but one thing we’re certain of—it’ll be here before we know it. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports flu activity typically picks up in October and peaks between December and February. That means now is the time to start taking precautions at your workplace to protect your employees.
How the flu virus spreads
The flu (or influenza) virus spreads when people who are infected cough, sneeze, and talk. People with the flu are most contagious during the first three to four days after their illness begins, but they may not experience the symptoms until about two days after the virus enters their body. This means an employee infected with the virus could unknowingly spread it to coworkers at your workplace.
The best defense is a good offense
Get the flu shot. Now. The CDC suggests getting the vaccine before the peak season, ideally by the end of October, if not sooner. It takes the body about two weeks to fully respond and develop antibodies from the vaccine to protect against the virus. In fact, many pharmacies and clinics already have the flu shot available.
Help keep your employees healthy and on the job
Employee absenteeism costs employers time and money. It may be more cost-effective to fund workplace vaccination programs by offering an onsite flu clinic, partnering with a pharmacy to get a discount, or allowing paid time off to get the vaccination.
Practice good hygiene
Proper hand washing ranks high on the list of ways to prevent the spread of viruses. Encourage your employees to frequently wash their hands with soap and water, to lather up, and rinse and dry thoroughly. Cleaning shared surfaces and equipment regularly such as the keyboard and mouse, telephone receiver, and working surfaces with alcohol-based disinfectant wipes is another important practice.
When someone gets sick
If any of your employees do come down with the flu, encourage them to stay home. Remind them to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing and ask them to use a tissue if available or sneeze into their sleeve rather than their hands.
Most adults who become ill from the virus will recover in a few days. However, remind your employees to seek medical attention if they develop complications.
For more information, CDC developed a one-page flow diagram on how the flu travels.