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Save Our Stomachs: Simple tips can stop spread of viruses at work

It may look silly, but it's a better way to sneeze to stop the spread of germs. (Thinkstock)
It may look silly, but it's a better way to sneeze to stop the spread of germs. (Thinkstock)

Thank you to the woman I just saw use the bathroom without washing her hands. She just waltzed out the door without even glancing at the sink as if the notion of washing up hadn’t even crossed her mind.

It reminded me that we’re smack dab in the middle of cold and flu season and perhaps it was time for a new blog on workplace hygiene tips to stop the spread of germs.

It has been a bad season.

So many people in this office have head colds that you can actually hear the coughing and sneezing over the construction noises coming from the floor above us.

Building management told us they’re installing new windows, but it sounds more like they’re having a dragon-slaying contest with power tools.

Trust me, that’s some loud sneezing going on to be heard over that racket.

And it’s not just head colds. A bad stomach virus is going around, too.

I should know. It ruined my Christmas. But I wasn’t suffering alone.

The stomach flu outbreak has been so bad this year the Washington Post wrote an article about how many families have been felled and a warning that the worst isn’t over.

So, to get to my point – and I do have one – it’s time to get serious about prevention, people.


Influenza is always one of the biggest concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone older than 6 months get vaccinated with the annual flu shot.

Companies concerned over influenza outbreaks can boost flu-shot participation. As with most things, making it free and or/easy always is a safe bet. Companies can boost vaccination numbers offering on-site shots or covering any insurance deductible cost of the vaccine.

Some companies – generally health care providers whose employees are most likely to be exposed to the flu – even mandate flu shots, with exemptions for health or religious reasons.


Frequent hand-washing is always one of the cardinal rules for preventing the spread of cold and flu germs.

Companies can help by making sure facilities are stocked with fresh soap and clean towels or air dryers. Many companies post signs in key areas reminding staff to wash hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs.

Some firms – especially those who are in frequent contact with the public – have easily accessible gel hand-sanitizing stations for employees and visitors to use.


Some tips from The Occupational Safety and Health Administration include:

• Keep frequently touched common surfaces such as telephones and computer equipment clean.

• Discourage using other workers’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment.

• Minimize group meetings; use emails, phones and text messaging. If meetings are unavoidable, avoid close contact – within six feet – with others and ensure that the meeting room is properly ventilated and cleaned.


Besides washing hands, employees should watch where they cough and sneeze.

People should cover their mouths with a tissue or their sleeve when coughing or sneezing. They should not sneeze in their hands, which will spread germs to the next surface or person you touch.

For younger people, sneezing into their elbow is the way they were taught. It’s even apparently been incorporated into a popular dance move called “dabbing” where you put your face in your arm like you’re going to sneeze.

I’m old. I’m not going to pretend I get that, but it’s apparently popular enough that it got a congressman’s kid grounded when he tried it during a swearing in ceremony.

So I’m going to leave that image here for us older, hand-sneezing folks to remind us there is a better, more sanitary if not slightly silly looking way to sneeze.


Of course, there are shared surfaces you can’t help but touch – the elevator button for example. Since you’re already abusing your sleeves, let them take that germ bullet for you, too. I like to pull my cardigan sleeve over my hands when pressing the elevator button or opening the ladies’ room door.

I find it pretty effective.

And OSHA reminds everyone that for personal prevention, don’t skimp on the hand gel and make sure you get plenty of rest, exercise, fluids and proper nutrition to keep your immune system in top shape.


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