8 Office Health Hacks to Help You Survive Cold & Flu Season

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

The only thing worse than getting sick is getting sick from some rube in your office who insists on working through a cold or the flu.

Assuming you got your flu shot (it’s not too late!), what else can you do to keep the germs at bay?

A lot, actually.

We assembled a handful of workplace health hacks to give you a better chance of avoiding those pesky germs. (We’re just going to assume you already got a flu shot.)

Increased Individual Immunity

If you already have too much on your to-do list, just add this one thing.

1. Give Immunity a Hand. You touch your T zone (eyes, nose and mouth) hundreds of times during the work day — and this area is the best portal for germs to launch their attack. Hand-washing is your first line of defense. Ideally, you’d wash your hands after touching anything in a public place, or after using the bathroom, sneezing or coughing. Jenny McClendon, a MeMD provider in Scottsdale, AZ, recommends washing with warm water and soap (antibacterial soap is best) for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the entire surface of the hand — palms, backs, between fingers and even under the nails. Follow up with a healthy squeeze of hand gel and let hands air dry, which is part of the sanitizing process.

Gross But Important: By some estimates, 25 percent of public restroom soap dispensers are contaminated with fecal bacteria. OMG!

Better Health in the Breakroom

A lot of germy stuff is hanging out in the breakroom with your coworkers.

2. Chow Down on the Immunity Boosters. Put cinnamon in your coffee, drink tea (black or green) or chomp on dark chocolate for a shot of antioxidants to help fight illness. Yogurt with probiotics also kicks up immunity. And don’t bypass fruits and nuts. “A handful of almonds contains nearly 50 percent of the daily recommended values of vitamin E, which can help boost the immune system,” explains Kim Tran, a microbiologist and pharmacy manager inChicago. “Grapefruit, oranges and tangerines contain loads of flavonoids that boost the immune system as well as being a good source of vitamin C.”

3. Clean Up Your Act. Use a disinfecting wipe to clean surfaces before and after you touch them, especially handles on drawers, the fridge, microwave, sink and coffee pot. Toss the sponge in the dishwasher or microwave as often as possible to kill germs. Use paper towels instead of dishtowels, which — like sponges — can harbor MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), E. coli and other bacteria. Blech!

4. Steer Clear of the Sugar. “Eating sugar and processed foods damages the good bacteria in the gut — about 80 percent of our immune system lives there, so gut health reigns supreme in preventing the flu,” asserts Tampa, FL–based wellness consultant Liz Palmieri-Coonley. This means skipping candies and sodas in favor of fruits, unsweetened juices and water.

Gross But Important: A Kimberly-Clark/University of Arizona (UA) study found that 21 percent of vending machine keypads had a high level of bacterial contamination. And you don’t even want to know about the germs hanging out in your office’s open-access candy bowls.

5. Drink Up. “In colder weather, the body's metabolism revs up, and you tend to exhale more moisture than usual. Losing fluids tends to dry your mucous membranes, weakening that first level of defense, which in turn makes you more susceptible to contracting cold and flu viruses,” explains Joel Blass, medical director at Workmen's Circle MultiCare Center in the New York metro area. “Staying hydrated will keep your immune system strong — juices with vitamin C and water are the best forms of hydration. The ideal daily amount varies from person to person, but on average is around 3 liters in men, 2 liters in women.”

Wellness in Your Workspace

Stock up and trick out your work area for maximum germ fighting.

6. Use Hand Gel and Wipes Liberally. You can’t always wash your hands, but you can clean them up with hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. Don’t be shy about asking others to have a squirt when they come by, too. Once they’re safely out of sight, wipe down anything they touched. This is crucial if they’re coughing, sneezing or sniffling! EPA-registered products like Clorox® or Lysol® have the most germ-killing power, wiping out up to 99.9 percent of germs.

Gross But Important: Your desk has more than 400 times the bacteria of a toilet, according to another University of Arizona study. Gag!

7. Make a Desk Drawer Pharmacy. Stow some additional OTC items, multivitamins and supplements that support cold and flu prevention and treatment. “If you start feeling under the weather, try an herbal remedy with herbs researched for immune support — elderberry, andrographis, berberine — to bolster immunity and reduce symptom severity,” notes Christopher Hobbs, director of integrative science for Santa Cruz, CA–based Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems. “Elderberry syrup has a pleasant taste and drops could be mixed in water; andrographis and berberine are best taken in tablet or capsule form due to bitter taste. It’s best to load up at the first sign of low immune function and taper off as you begin to feel better.” According to Tran, although echinacea, zinc and vitamin C are popular for colds, they haven’t been extensively studied for the flu and have mixed reviews. “It's always best to check with your doctor before starting any herbal supplement,” Tran cautions.

8. Get a Humidifier. Keep your mucous membranes in fighting shape with a humidifier to moisten the air, but make sure you clean it properly to avoid creating a germ-spreading machine. Bacteria love warm moist environments (hello, reservoir), so stay on top of the suggested maintenance schedule or you’ll defeat the purpose.               

Use these handy office health hacks to help stave off attacks from pesky germs — and germy coworkers who come to work when they probably should stay home.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered as offering individualized medical advice. 

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