It is almost certain that everyone out there has heard of influenza (commonly referred to as the flu). It is a respiratory illness that can range from mild to severe, and at times can also become fatal. It is highly contagious and is caused and transmitted by the flu virus.

The flu virus is spread by small droplets from an infected person’s sneeze and or cough. Those droplets travel through the air and can infect others. The virus can also be left on a surface and transmitted when the next person touches that surface with their hands, followed by contacting their eyes, ears, or mouth.

National Chemical Laboratories wants everyone to be aware of the facts surrounding the flu, the differences between the flu and the common cold, and how to keep the flu out of your facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu alone costs companies in the United States over ten billion dollars in direct costs, including hospitalization and outpatient visits. Numbers such as that show that most facilities cannot afford ignore the flu.

The flu poses the greatest risk to those who suffer from diabetes, extreme obesity, heart disease, asthma, and other lung problems. The elderly, children, and pregnant women are also in the greatest risk category. Those who either fall in one of those categories, and those who do not, should consider getting the flu shot. It is estimated that over seven million people were prevented from contracting the flu virus during the 2013-2014 flu season. That is enough people to stretch from Maine to Oregon.

As for those who consider the flu a winter or cold weather illness, there are facts which will dispel that popular myth. During the 2015-2016 flu season, some of the highest rates of influenza-like illness activity were found in typically warm weather locations such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

One of the most common issues is the lack of understanding by many as to whether they have the flu virus or if they just caught the common cold. Both are respiratory illnesses, with the common cold being milder than the flu. A medical professional would need to run a series of tests to accurately determine whether or not you have the flu or if you have a cold. While symptoms alone can not 100 percent determine if you have a cold or if you have the flu, please refer to the chart below for the common differences between the flu and the common cold.

You may not have the ability to fully prevent the flu from entering your facility, but you are able to take proven and effective measures to limit its impact and limit its ability to spread among others and to yourself. It’s just a matter of encouraging healthy behaviors from your staff, students, visitors, customers, and yourself.

A simple way to try to prevent the flu virus from entering a facility is to encourage everyone in the facility to get vaccinated against the flu. Those who receive the flu vaccines not only help protect themselves, but they help others. When one’s chances of acquiring the flu diminish, so to do the chances of that person spreading the flu to others.

Another simple way to greatly reduce the likelihood of the flu virus from entering your facility is to encourage everyone who has the flu to stay home! People who don’t stay home while sick feel they are increasing their productivity. However, when they transmit their flu to others, those people then need to call out sick. That results in a collective drop in productivity for an entire staff. Those who are out sick with the flu should remain home until 24 hours after their fever and other flu-related symptoms subside.

If the flu virus has already entered the facility, the top personal prevention method is simple, but often goes ignored. Encourage frequent hand washing and sanitation with effective hand cleaners and sanitizers. Washing one’s hands is the easiest and most effective defense against contracting the flu. Clean, well-stocked restrooms, along with the placement of water-free hand sanitizers will create an environment that will promote good hand hygiene habits.

For more extensive resources regarding the facts, statistics, and prevention methods regarding the flu, please consult some of the following free resources: