Preventing Influenza in the Workplace

What are the symptoms?

Influenza can cause a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people report diarrhea and vomiting associated with the flu.

How is it spread?

The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else’s mouth or nose) before washing their hands.

Everyone should take everyday steps to protect your health and lessen the spread of the virus:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home if you are sick for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
  • Stay informed. Health officials will provide additional information as it becomes available. Visit www.michigan.gov/flu or www.cdc.gov  

What are tips for preventing illness in the workplace?

Most important: remind employees that they should not come to work if they have flu-like symptoms (fever and cough) and not return until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.

Encourage employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth; and to wash their hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom and any time hands are soiled. If a workplace lacks soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60% to 95% alcohol is a good substitute. Good hand hygiene is the best protection against infection and should always be practiced after having contact with surfaces or other people’s hands that may be contaminated with the virus.

Should workers wear respirators or facemasks to prevent the spread of a new influenza virus?

No. Workers in general workplace settings, such as offices, stores, restaurants and manufacturing, do not need to wear respirators or facemasks. The best way to protect these workers is to follow the recommendations in this fact sheet.

What precautions can help prevent the spread of a new influenza virus in offices and public places?

No special precautions are needed, but buildings managers and owners should enforce good maintenance practices including:

  • HAND WASHING FACILITIES: Must be adequately supplied with hand soap and paper towels and cleaned regularly.
  • ROUTINELY CLEAN SURFACES FREQUENTLY TOUCHED: Such as doorknobs, door handles, handrails and telephones, as well as surfaces in bathrooms, cafeterias and offices.
  • POST SIGNS: That advises employees and building visitors to wash their hands frequently, and to cover their coughs.
  • HEATING AND VENTILATION SYSTEMS: Should be kept in good working order in accordance with system specifications and any applicable regulations.

What kind of cleaners should be used for cleaning surfaces?

The pandemic influenza virus can be killed with common household or commercial detergents and disinfectants. Use general cleaners or soap and water. As an added precaution, disinfectants can be used on frequently contacted surfaces.

  • If hard surfaces are visibly dirty, clean first using general cleaner or soap and water. After surface has been cleaned, apply disinfectant following product instructions.
  • Disinfectant wipes can also be used to clean small surfaces. Discard wipes after using them.
  • If disinfectants are not available, use a chlorine bleach solution made by adding 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart (4 cups) of water. Discard the bleach solution after using it.
  • Never mix bleach with cleaning products because hazardous vapors can be created.
  • Additional information on registered disinfectants and antimicrobial products is available at http://www.epa.gov/oppad001/chemregindex.htm

What should I tell employees who have flu-like symptoms?

Employees with flu-like symptoms, such as fever (temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and cough, should stay home until at least 24 hours after their symptoms resolve. Anyone with severe symptoms should seek health care and treatment immediately. In adults, symptoms that warrant emergency medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

How long should employees with influenza-like illness remain home from work?

Public Health officials recommend that people stay home until they have been free of symptoms for 24 hours. If appropriate for the job, employers might consider having telecommuting options for employees who need to stay home.

What information should I share with employees?

Communicating good hygiene and infection-control practices will help keep your workforce healthy. Employers can use websites, hotlines and posters to inform workers about the symptoms and spread of influenza, and to encourage good hygiene. Early and active communication can also help prevent fear and anxiety during an outbreak. Employers should be wary of rumors about influenza infection in employees or elsewhere.

Stay informed. Health officials will provide additional information as it becomes available. Visit www.michigan.gov/flu  or www.cdc.gov