Reducing the Risk of Flu and Other Communicable Illnesses in the Workplace
From the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees which can be a challenge in the height of the flu season.
By following guidelines based upon traditional infection control and industrial hygiene practices, employers can play a key role in protecting their employees from influenza and other communicable illnesses. Employers and employees should use these guidelines to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to take appropriate measures that include good hygiene, cough etiquette, social distancing, and staying home from work when ill.
Influenza outbreaks are typically limited and most people have some immunity to the circulating strain of the virus. A vaccine is prepared in advance of the flu season and is designed to match the influenza viruses most likely to be circulating in the community. Employees living abroad and international business travelers should note that other geographic areas (for example, the Southern Hemisphere) have different influenza seasons which may require different vaccines.
In 2007, there were 72 new human cases of avian flu. Of those cases, 48 people died, which translates to a devastating mortality rate of 67 percent. There are 25 countries, including
Canada and a number of European nations that have reported animals with avian flu this year. Right now, humans cannot pass avian flu to each other. It is still considered communicable, however, because it is passed from animal to human.
The avian virus has raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because of the high mortality rate and the fact that humans have little natural immunity to it. Because of these factors, if avian flu becomes transmissible from person to person, it may very well spread rapidly and with little restraint, causing a global outbreak or pandemic.
Staph (staphylococcus aureus) is a type of bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Sometimes staph can cause a skin infection and can cause serious infections such as wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.
Methicillian-resistant staph or MRSA refers to types of staph that are resistant to the antibiotic Methicillian as well as some other antibiotics and drugs. Staph and MRSA infections acquired by persons who have not been hospitalized within the past year are known as community-associated MRSA. Hospital-related staph and MRSA on the rise which has been attributed to the pervasive use and misuse of antibiotics by the medical community as well as the increasing amount of antibiotics in animal-derived food sources.
How Germs Spread
Illnesses like the flu (influenza) and colds are caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu and colds usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes sending relatively large infectious droplets and very small sprays into the nearby air and into contact with other people.
To a lesser degree, human flu is spread by touching objects contaminated with influenza viruses and then transferring the infected material from the hands to the nose, mouth or eyes. Influenza may also be spread by very small infectious particles traveling in the air.
Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. MRSA is spread through the 5 Cs - Crowding and subsequently frequent skin-to-skin Contact, lack of Cleanliness, Compromised skin (cuts) and Contaminated surfaces and items.
Steps Every Employer Can Take
• Develop a sick leave policy that does not penalize sick employees, thereby encouraging employees who have influenza-related symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, or upset stomach) to stay home so that they do not infect other employees. Recognize that employees with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.
• Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to clean their work surfaces.
• Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their nose, mouth, and eyes.
• Encourage employees to cover their coughs and sneezes.
• Encourage employees to obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine.
• Provide employees with up-to-date education and training on influenza risk factors, protective behaviors, and instruction on proper behaviors (for example, cough etiquette and care of personal protective equipment).
• Keep work surfaces, telephones, computer equipment and other frequently touched surfaces and office equipment clean.
• Discourage your employees from using other employees' phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment.
• If flu symptoms appear to be spreading among employees, minimize situations where groups of people are crowded together, such as in a meeting. Use e-mail, phones and text messages to communicate with each other. When meetings are necessary, avoid close contact by keeping a separation of at least 6 feet, where possible, and assure that there is proper ventilation in the meeting room. Reduce or eliminate unnecessary social interactions.
• Promote healthy lifestyles that include plenty of sleep, physical activity, good nutrition, stress management, drinking plenty of fluids, and smoking cessation. A person's overall health impacts their body's immune system and can affect their ability to fight off, or recover from, an infectious disease.
How to Help Stop the Spread of Germs
• The best prevention for seasonal flu is to get vaccinated. These vaccinations may also be of some benefit in treating avian flu in humans should a pandemic occur.
• Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough either with a tissue, your hand or upper sleeves if tissues are not available. Then clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.
Clean your hands often. When available, wash your hands with soap and warm water then rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used.If using a gel, rub the gel in your hands until they are dry. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Germs can live for two hours or more on surfaces like doorknobs, desks and tables. To prevent MRSA, cuts and scrapes should be kept clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
Contact should be avoided with other people's wounds or bandages and people should avoid sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment or toilet items.
• When you are sick or have flu symptoms, stay home, get plenty of rest, and check with a health care provider as needed. Remember: keeping your distance from others may protect them from getting sick.
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