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Avoiding Illness At The Office

Winter is prime time for colds and flu and other illnesses of the coughing and sneezing variety.

There's no better place to pick up an infection than from your colleagues at the office. On Friday's The Early Show, medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay will share some tips on how to stay healthy and prevent others from getting sick.

The most common illnesses transmitted around the workplace are colds and flu. The main way those viruses are spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from a cough or sneeze can be propelled three feet through the air and deposit on the mouth, nose or eyes, where they can easily enter the body.

Viruses can also live for hours on the surface of objects. The following are germ contamination sites:

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Doorknobs
  • Telephones
  • Keyboards
  • Elevator Buttons
  • Office Utensils

    People pick up the virus by touching a contaminated object or person and infect themselves by then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes -- or someone else's mouth or nose.

    Senay says the most important thing is to stay home until you're better, especially if you have a cough and fever. She explains a person should stay home until he or she has been without fever for 24 hours to help prevent spreading. They should avoid close contact with fellow workers, cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, clean their hands regularly, and avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.

    If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands, instructs Senay. And put your contaminated used tissue in the wastebasket.

    Senay says regular soap is suitable to wash your hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds -- long enough to sing the "happy birthday" song twice. Alcohol-based hand rubs may be used as an alternative. They might make you more likely to clean regularly if close at hand. No-touch automatic hand dryers or paper towel dispensers help to avoid touching surfaces as you dry your hands are useful, too.

    Keeping each other healthy takes some teamwork, and some common sense. People do go to work even if they are sick. Ill co-workers should stay away from other people and not share their pens and other supplies. A diligent cleaning staff is important to keep surfaces clean. Make sure everyone you work with is educated about personal hygiene and gets in the habit of practicing it all the time. Infected people may be unaware they're contagious for a certain period of time before they come down with symptoms.

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