Have you ever trudged off to work with chills, achy bones and a fever? If so, you’re not alone. Studies show that about half of U.S. workers reported to work ill in the past year. Oft-cited reasons for spreading germs at the workplace are fear of lost wages — many people have minimal or no paid sick leave — or guilt about missing work.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like computer keyboards, desks, phones and fax machines. As icky as it sounds, the co-worker who’s coughing all over the conference room table or racing to the restroom because of a nasty stomach bug can turn your office into an incubator for all manner of infectious bugs.
To protect yourself and your co-workers from these and other germs:
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in a wastebasket. If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve, not your hands.
* Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing or using the restroom. Use soap and warm water and rub your hands together for about 20 seconds, making sure to scrub all the surfaces. Rinse your hands under clean, running water and dry them with a paper towel. No soap and water available? Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can inactivate most germs in a jiffy, so always keep some at your workstation.
* Get a flu shot (or the nasal vaccine if you don’t like needles). A yearly flu vaccination is the single best way to lower your chances of getting the flu. If you get the vaccine but still get sick, the vaccine can make the bug milder.
* Avoid close contact with co-workers who are obviously ill, and if you’re sick, stay home and keep your germs to yourself.
* Steer clear of the damp sponge that might be lurking in the sink in your office kitchen. Squishy sponges are breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria.
* Use alcohol-based wipes or other approved sanitizers to disinfect your keyboard, telephone, desk and mouse.
Speaking of your computer mouse, don’t overlook the living, breathing variety that might come out at night to dance on your desk and keyboard. According to University of Arizona researchers, your office toilet is probably 400 times cleaner than your desk, but the latter is your preferred lunch venue. As unappetizing as it sounds, crumbs that lodge between the keys will encourage the growth of bacteria and could become tasty morsels for all manner of disease-carrying vermin. Dust is a problem too, because it will trap moisture that becomes a breeding ground for insects.
Even if you don’t eat at your desk, your fingers come in contact with all kinds of germs over the course of a work day, and the bugs end up on your phone and keyboard. Hitting the "delete" key won’t sweep these germs away. To stay healthy, keep your keyboard crumb-free, wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer often — especially before you eat — and clean your entire work area regularly with disinfectant wipes