By William Cowie
You’ve probably noticed the temperature dropping as we head into winter (it’s certainly been fresh in the mornings around Brisbane!). If your workplace isn’t already in the throes of flu season, it probably will be in the near future. Here are some ideas for you to beat the flu season and have a happy & healthy winter!
Avoid the Flu by Knowing These Facts
Influenza, or “the flu”, as it’s often known, is caused by a virus. Flu symptoms often include a sore throat, high fever, chills, weakness, muscle and joint pains, headache and a cough. People particularly vulnerable to the flu are more likely to develop serious complications such as pneumonia.
Treating influenza is usually possible without needing behind-the-counter medication. Normal treatment includes:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking plenty of clear fluids to prevent you becoming dehydrated. Water is always good, but broth, sports drinks or electrolyte beverages can also be effective.
- Gargling warm salt water to soothe sore throats (1:1 ratio warm water to salt)
- Paracetamol can help control fevers, aches and pains. Adults can also use aspirin.
- Keeping yourself warm when you are experiencing chills.
- DON’T smoke tobacco, drink alcohol or expose yourself to dust or fumes.
If you develop these other symptoms:
- severe headache,
- have trouble breathing
- start coughing up green or yellow phlegm
- have purple or blue discolouration around the lips
- sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that get better then come back with a fever and a worse cough
Seek medical attention immediately!
Warning: Some over the counter medications can relieve flu symptoms but will not make you less contagious to other people.
Difference between cold and flu
Influenza and colds have similar symptoms so it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. The flu is generally worse than the common cold. If you’re coming down with symptoms, your health care provider can give you a test in the first few days and determine if you have flu or a cold.
Key differences between cold and flu:
- Cold symptoms usually last a few days, flu symptoms can last up to a week
- Muscular pains and shivering attacks only occur with a flu
- Colds cause a runny nose, while the flu usually starts with a dry sensation in your nose and throat
- Colds can sometimes cause a mild fever, flu causes a high fever.
“The Flu Shot”: Flu Vaccinations
After a heavy flu season in the northern hemisphere, people are being encouraged to get the flu shot, especially if they are over 65, pregnant, or have kidney, heart or respiratory diseases. The flu vaccine is available free from many GPs and other vaccination services.
There have already been around 3000 cases of influenza reported in Australia this year, with nearly one third of them in Queensland. It takes about 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to start working, so get in early to make sure you’re protected in time.
There are a lot of simple actions you can take to reduce your chances of being infected with the flu virus:
• Wash your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
• When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or the upper sleeve of your shirt.
• After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands.
• Clean surfaces and equipment that you regularly touch, especially if they are shared with many people eg. keyboards, phones, shared stationary such as staplers and scissors
• Avoid coming into close contact or even shaking hands with people who are already sick or think they might be sick.
Basic OHS preventive actions in the workplace for flu season
• Arrange for a qualified professional to come in and give flu vaccinations to employees who want them
• Make sure there are tissues available to cover coughs and sneezes
• Provide cleaning supplies people can use to keep their work surfaces free of germs
• Have soap and hand sanitiser available to make it easy for people to clean their hands regularly
Absenteeism vs. Presenteeism
You’ve run out of luck and have contracted the flu despite your best efforts. Do you stay home or go to work anyway?
Once you start feeling sick, especially if you have a fever, stay home from work. Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to get much done when you’re really sick anyway, and you’ll only infect other people with the flu. Unfortunately, you start being contagious about a day before you really start to feel the symptoms, so you might have already infected other people.
Staying home is especially important if you work in aged care, child care and other professions where you work with the elderly, the sick and the very young. They are especially vulnerable to the flu, so try not to expose them to influenza.
If you want to keep working and the type of work you do allows you to work from home, try asking to have a few days of work from home instead of coming into the workplace. You might get more done in a more relaxing home environment and the chances of infecting other people are reduced.
Have a great winter!
We hope you are successful in avoiding a nasty flu this winter! Have a safe, happy and healthy season.
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