It’s the best way to avoid picking up the virus
As the ‘flu’ season approaches, approximately 7.6million working days will be lost to the influenza virus in the UK alone.
The short-term ‘flu’ virus is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of influenza viruses.
As the flu is notoriously contagious, the transmission rate of the virus can increase dramatically when people are working in open-plan offices or are in close proximity to other work colleagues.
From my work as an occupational health advisor for International SOS, I know that flu sufferers tend to experience symptoms such as a fever, headache, chills and body aches, which can last for two weeks or more.
The illness is often spread by the coughs and sneezes of infected people, or by uninfected people touching contaminated objects such as telephones and desks and then touching their face.
Many workplaces use shared equipment, which can harbour flu germs for around 24 hours if contaminated by an infected person. Consider what could happen on an offshore platform if there was a flu outbreak, for example.
Indeed there have been occasions when one or more offshore workers have been flown back to terra firma to recover and to reduce the risk of the virus spreading on the drilling rig or production installation.
What’s more, flu cannot be countered with antibiotics as they are ineffective against the viral infection.
Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid picking up the virus is through vaccination.
The immune system takes time to respond to the flu vaccine, so the optimal time for the jab is between October and January (with the ‘flu season’ occurring between October and March each year).
Good hygiene practices, such as hand washing frequently or the use of hand gels, are also effective methods in reducing the risk of infection.
Those who have the flu should cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing to prevent the condition spreading.
If the symptoms have already begun to show, it might even be better for you to take some days off work to protect both yourself and your colleagues.
While the vaccination may give you some mild side effects (such as redness, swelling or a headache), not every person receives these – and they’ll disappear by themselves within one or two days without the need for further treatment.
Many organisations offer their workforce the vaccine through their occupational health provider, either onsite or at a nearby occupational health clinic.
It only takes a few minutes, significantly reduces the chance of the virus spreading, and will help to keep you healthy over winter.
Fiona Shepherd is an occupational health advisor at International SOS.