Each year, the influenza virus infects millions of people across the country, including over 3,800 who were hospitalized in Colorado last year. The flu attacks the respiratory system and is highly contagious. When just one person in a workplace contracts the virus, everyone is put at risk.
February is peak flu season, and this year may be a rough one in Colorado.
Through mid-January, the state has already recorded 909 hospitalizations, pacing ahead of 2019. Reports of patients with flulike symptoms at Colorado outpatient clinics are pacing above seasonal baselines, with Denver experiencing a spike in emergency room visits.
How can you protect your employees from the flu this year? Use these tips from Pinnacol experts to keep everyone as healthy as possible during flu season.
- Encourage flu vaccinations: The flu vaccination reduces the likelihood of developing the flu. If someone does contract the virus, his or her symptoms will be less severe. “It’s definitely not too late to get vaccinated,” says Pinnacol Senior Medical Director Tom Denberg, M.D.
- Know the flu symptoms: Help employees recognize the most common flu symptoms by listing the signs of flu on posters or in emails; these include aches, chills, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose and fever, though not everyone with the flu spikes a fever.
- Recognize at-risk employees: Certain groups are more likely to develop the flu, Denberg says, including people with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rheumatic conditions, or those undergoing immunosuppressive therapy. “It’s especially important for them to take preventive measures and minimize their exposure,” he says.
- Tell sick employees to stay home: Denberg says employees often ignore this directive because they worry about falling behind with their workload. Hearing their employer say it’s OK to take sick days reassures them while they recover. Infectivity can last up to four days, Denberg says, and it takes several days for the flu to develop. A person is contagious that entire time, so encourage employees to head home as soon as symptoms arise.
- Advise everyone to wash their hands: Denberg says employees should wash their hands with soap frequently during flu season. A person can get the flu by touching virus-infected surfaces, including phones and keyboards, and then touching one of his or her mucous membranes.
- Track flu outbreaks: Know when flu might strike and prepare for it. Follow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s flu report page to view statewide flu trends. Is an outbreak creeping closer? Warn your employees, and disinfect shared devices such as doorknobs, coffee pots and copy machines more frequently.
- Promote preventive actions: Provide tissues for people to cover their mouths with when they sneeze, and supply hand sanitizer to workers for use at job sites where they can’t wash their hands immediately. Invest in no-touch trash cans too.