Avoiding colds, flu at work

What's more rampant than water cooler gossip and more gag-inducing than the leftovers in the communal fridge? The cold and flu bug making the rounds at work each winter.

"Colds and flu spread wherever groups of people are in close contact," says Joyce Fontana, RN, associate professor of nursing at Saint Joseph College in Connecticut. "Sneezing or coughing near a person may be enough to infect another person. Children tend to get colds more easily than adults and often become infected at school and then bring the virus home to their parents, who then bring it into work."

The cold is an acute upper respiratory infection by a virus, she says. There is no cure, only symptomatic treatment. More than 100 viruses can cause the common cold which is why there is no vaccine.

"The best way to prevent the spread of any respiratory infection, including influenza, is to avoid contact with an infected person," she says. That means taking advantage of those sick days. "People who are not feeling well should stay home."

This will not eliminate the spread however, because the cold has a one to four day incubation period, during which a person is contagious.

"Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing even if you are feeling well," she reminds. "And the single best way to prevent spreading any infectious disease is frequent hand washing."

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