Businesses asked to encourage workers to get flu vaccine
Fargo - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated influenza is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays and costs the United States more than $87 billion each flu season.
While the spread of cold and flu in the workplace can come at a significant price, there are several things employers can do to minimize that cost. The CDC has assembled an informational toolkit specifically for employers entitled “Make it Your Business to Fight the Flu.”
In it, strategy No. 1 is to host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace. If that is not an option, strategy No. 2 is to promote flu vaccinations in the community.
CDC officials maintain that the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. Although the organization has reported this year’s vaccine is effective against just 23 percent of flu cases requiring medical attention, area health professionals recommend people who have not received the vaccine consider doing so now.
“As long as there are people getting the flu, it’s not too late to get the shot,” said Dr. Abiola Fashanu, an infectious disease specialist for Sanford Health. “The peak season of the flu is usually between December and February according to the CDC. We’ve seen a lot of cases, probably a lot more than we saw at this time last year. It’s hard to tell if we’re at the tail end. We can still get cases of flu up until the month of May.”
Julie Loebrick, a family medicine health coach at Sanford, said although the vaccine does not fully cover every strain, people who become ill who have received the vaccine will likely not get as sick as those who have not.
Stephanie Winterquist, communications director for the Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association, said employers must gauge what is best based on the goods or services the company provides. Do employees interact with customers or do they work independently with little interaction with the outside public? Either way, she sees only benefits for employees who offer the vaccine.
The Moorhead Public School District is one local employer that offered a vaccination clinic this fall.
While the typical office does not have to find someone to cover for a sick employee, school districts are taxed with finding a substitute teacher.
Kristin Dehmer, executive director of human resources for the district, said finding subs is a statewide concern in Minnesota as well as regionally in Fargo-Moorhead, so maintaining a healthy workplace is important.
Stopping germs In addition to encouraging flu vaccination, employers can promote the following tips to stop the spread of cold and flu in the workplace:
- Avoid close contact.
“If you know someone has the flu, it’s just better to avoid close contact with that person,” Fashanu said.
- Frequent hand washing.
“The best thing to do is wash your hands. Before prepping food, after prepping food, before you eat, after you eat,” Loebrick said. “Good old soap and water is much better than all the toxins and chemicals you could possibly use.”
- Proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
The influenza virus is spread by droplets, so Loebrick recommends coughing or sneezing into the elbow or sleeve. “If you do not cover your cough or sneeze, you can transmit the virus up to six feet from your own body,” Loebrick said. “Whoever is within 6 feet of you can be infected by your germs.”
- Keep your work area clean.
There are a number of germ hotspots in the workplace such as the copy machine, coffee pot, door handles and more. These surfaces should be wiped down regularly. Those who share a work station should consider wiping down the area at the beginning of each shift. Winterquist suggests placing disposable alcohol-based disinfecting wipes throughout the office.
- Take a sick day.
“If your temp is over 100.4 and you know you don’t feel well, I think you should stay away from the workplace,” Fashanu said. “Not only to get rest, but to prevent the spread to others.” The CDC recommends people stay home until they are fever free without medication for 24 hours.