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During Flu Season, Model Good Health Habits to Protect Employees, Customers

Posted on in Education/Training

By: Dorothy de Souza Guedes, VGM Education

To reduce absenteeism during flu season, encourage sick workers to stay home. That may seem counterintuitive, but one ill employee can expose dozens of coworkers – and customers – to the flu.

Nearly 60 percent of reported flu hospitalizations are adults 18 to 64 – our prime working years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates flu costs billions in direct medical expenses plus billions more in lost earnings. The overall economic burden? About $87 billion a year.

There are steps you as a business owner or manager can take to minimize the impact on your bottom line and the health of employees and customers.

Sick Employees

Employers and managers should model good flu prevention behaviors, said Stephanie Hookham, RD, CNSC, of VGM Home Infusion. She recommended the following:

  • Stay home when sick. That means everyone from owners to customer service reps to drivers. It’s usually okay to return to work after 24 hours’ fever-free without the aid of fever-reducing medicine.
  • Allow sick staff to work from home as they recover. They won’t fall as far behind in their work and feel pressured to return while still contagious.
  • Accommodate reassignment of tasks. An employee who returns fever-free but is still coughing or blowing their nose should be reassigned to limited contact duties away from the public.

“If the employee has to use a Kleenex often, or, worse yet, hold a Kleenex while working, they should not interact with the public,” Hookham said.

Employees who make deliveries to residential facilities or private homes should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer frequently. Be prepared that during a flu outbreak, residential facilities may restrict or ban visitors to protect residents who are at high risk for flu, said Deb Martin, RN, BSN, of VGM Education.

“If you’re working with high-risk patients, wear a mask. You’re working with patients whose immunity is low. You need to think about how to protect your customers,” Martin said.

Sick Customers

Most experts believe flu viruses are usually spread by droplets from coughs, sneezes, or even talking -- up to six feet away. Less frequently, a person gets the flu from touching a surface that has flu virus on it, then touching their mouth or nose.

Martin’s mantra during flu season is “sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.” Think about how many surfaces you touch during your workday. Get in the habit of using antibacterial wipes on every surface you or customers touch: desk, counter, keyboard, mouse, door handles, even pens.

Retail locations can establish at the showroom entrance a flu station with free disposable masks, tissues, and hand sanitizer, Hookham said. Create a display of products for purchase, such as flu medications, hand sanitizer, heating pads and a variety of thermometers.

Prevention

What can you do to prevent flu during flu season from October through as late as May? Heather Trumm, BSN, RN, CWOCN, director of Would Care and Bariatrics, VGM Group, Inc., made the following recommendations:

  • Get a flu shot. The CDC does not recommend nasal spray flu vaccine this season.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for as long as it takes to say the ABCs. Use hand sanitizer only when soap and water are not available.
  • Take probiotics to strengthen the immune system.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to reduce the spread of germs.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue away immediately.
  • Take a daily vitamin supplement that contains vitamin C.

What You Should Know

Want to know more about influenza and earn CEUs? The VGMU Online Education course DMGT036 – Overview of Influenza now includes 2016-2017 flu season information. Not yet a VGMU user? Contact Megan Kraft at 888-786-6628.

The CDC’s Influenza (Flu) section includes pages of information about the 2016-2017 flu season, including information for businesses and employees. Flu.gov includes information on business planning and health professionals.

 

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