Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Avoiding Bugs at the Office

Google Global Communications and Public Affairs Associate, Matt Kellogg, recenlty joined forces with me to help keep Googlers out of cold and flu's way. Here is his nicely done article from internal Google news which is being reproduced with permission since these tips apply to just about everyone in the working world.

As we enter the height of cold and flu season, it seems like everyone is searching for the miracle drug (or herb, or diet, or "cleanse") that will keep them happy and bug-free until spring. But, according to Google's own Dr. Taraneh Razavi, you need look no further than your bathroom sink.

Handwashing, Dr. Razavi says, is the main key to staying healthy. An office environment provides a perfect breeding ground for germs, as just about every surface is highly conducive to rapid transmission, from doorknobs to desktops to phones to mouses and so on. Office buildings are even worse than airplanes in this regard because on an airplane people aren't constantly interacting and touching each other's belongings.

Short of requiring everyone to wear rubber suits and gas masks, the secret is to kill the germs before they spread. You're actually more likely to get sick from shaking hands than from kissing, so make it a point to wash up after contact with something or someone that could be carrying germs.

For those times when handwashing might be impractical or uncouth, like immediately after you've greeted an important business partner, hand sanitizers are a good stopgap. (While it is true that constant use of hand sanitizers can contribute to bacterial resistance and the creation of "super germs," Dr. Razavi assures us there is no risk in using the sanitizers intermittently.) Additionally, keep surface wipes handy for wiping down desks, conference-room tables, and any other publicly used, regularly touched surfaces.

Still, unwashed hands aren't the only threat to Googlers' health this winter. One of the biggest problems is that people often don't stay home when they're sick. Instead, they come in to the office (sometimes on the shuttles, which are a breeding ground unto themselves) and spread their germs to others, at the same time slowing their own recovery process.

Dr. Razavi advises that when employees develop symptoms, they should be encouraged to go home and work remotely if necessary. The immune system is especially sensitive to lack of sleep, stress, and poor nutrition, so, as you've heard your mom say a million times before, eat well and get lots of rest.

Of course, Dr. Razavi warns, not all received wisdom can be trusted. For example, the adage "feed a cold, starve a flu" is patently false: nutrition is critical whenever you're battling an illness, no matter which illness it is. Similarly, she says that going outside in the cold does not give you a cold (it's transmitted by a virus, not the weather), nor does the flu shot give you the flu (the vaccine's virus is dead and cannot infect you).

The advantages of alternative medicines are also frequently misunderstood, according to Dr. Razavi. She points out that echinacea has been shown to be less effective than some might think, and zinc nasal spray may have harmful side effects such as causing people to lose their sense of smell. (Zinc lozenges, however, are safe.) The efficacy of vitamin C has long been debated, but at the very least it's not harmful, so she recommends taking it if it makes you feel better. And what about a home remedy that really works? Again, it's Mom to the rescue, as studies have found chicken soup to have a significant effect on getting better and staying that way.

Finally, if you haven't already had your flu shot, it's not too late to get one--the shot can help you avoid the worst strains of flu this season. Also, if you develop flu-like symptoms, it's important to see your doctor immediately. There are medications that can shorten the course of the illness, but they work only when taken in the first 48 hours.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For any other, more in-depth questions, talk to your doctor. Regular communication with your physician is one of the best forms of prevention and the most reliable source of information.


lilly said...

I've actually been washing my hands much more religiously this year than in previous years. And for the most part, I've come out unscathed.

Weirdly, I got sick as soon as I went home for Thanksgiving, but I haven't had anything terrible -- just sleep inducing and sniffly.

lilly said...

Oh, I also feel empowered to now say "I think I might be getting sick. I'm staying home" rather than waiting until I'm dramatically sick to do so.

salvage cars said...

I think a lot of employees don't want to take sick days so as not to appear to be slackers, however in the best interest of their colleagues health and the general well being of others, we need to know when to be responsible and take time off or work from home