How to avoid catching a cold at work

In the latest Global News Explains, Aalia Adam breaks down the differences between the common cold and the flu and provides some ways to keep viruses away.

Your colleagues are coughing, or your customers are sniffling, and it seems like everyone around you is ill.

Unfortunately, you’re stuck at work for another five hours right in the middle of it.

Here are a few ways to lessen your chances of catching the cold and other common viruses while at work.

1. Wash your hands

A lot of viruses, like the common cold and influenza, stick to surfaces, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital. And when you touch those surfaces, and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, those viruses can enter your body and make you sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Certainly high-traffic areas like communal keyboards, doorknobs, elevator buttons, these are all places where there is the potential for these viruses to stick to and for people to get into contact with,” Bogoch said.

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“Really focusing on good hand hygiene can help reduce one’s risk of acquiring many of these infections.”

That means being aware when you’ve touched a surface that could be harbouring viruses, and washing your hands frequently with soap or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

READ MORE: 5 ways to protect yourself from the flu

You should keep your hand sanitizing within reason though, Bogoch said. “You can’t start putting on alcohol hand sanitizer every four seconds, that’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Try to focus on times when you know you’ve been touching communal surfaces, he suggested.

2. Keep high-traffic areas and surfaces clean

“It can help to wash down your workspace, especially areas where people’s hands are touching, from time to time,” Bogoch said.

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So those communal keyboards, telephones, cash registers, counters, toys and anything else that have a lot of people’s hands on them should be wiped down periodically with a bleach-based or alcohol-based cleaner.

READ MORE: Don’t touch these surfaces if you want to avoid the flu

Keeping frequently-touched surfaces clean will help to prevent cold and flu viruses from spreading, according to the CDC.

3. Get the flu shot

One of the more severe viruses you may encounter at work is preventable with a vaccine: the flu.

“If people get the flu shot, they have a reduced chance of getting influenza,” Bogoch said.

READ MORE: 7 steps to surviving the cold and flu season without getting sick

“If they’re unlucky enough to get influenza, most of the time, the shot might even mitigate the severity of their infection.”

4. Allow people to stay home if they’re sick

This one would be hard for an individual employee to do, but managers can certainly help. Bogoch thinks it’s important for workplaces to let people stay home when they’re sick.

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“It’s helpful if workplaces have policies or rules, written or unwritten, where if you’re sick, you can stay home or work from home and not come into the office and get everyone else sick,” he said.

Even following all these rules though, you might still get sick.

“Obviously, we don’t live in a sterile environment. We have to interact with the environment around us and be in contact with the environment around us all the time,” Bogoch said.

So you can’t really control what other people are doing. “If someone’s coughing in your face, unfortunately, that may be an exposure,” he said. “But there’s not really anything you can do if that happens. That’s really too bad.”

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