A Woman’s View: illness prevention

Swine flu is the latest pandemic scare in the world today. Before swine flu, there was small pox, tuberculosis, measles and many other harmful contagious diseases. Suffice to say that illnesses of all kinds will affect our lives no matter what kind or what era we may live in.

Rather than run for the hills and board up the house though, there are a few basic precautionary methods that one can take to help avoid getting sick or spreading a virus that you may already have. Common courtesies like covering your cough, washing your hands, staying home from work or school when you are sick and basically having a healthy respect for those around you can go a long way in preventing the spread of a virus. These common practices may seem obvious, but there are still some adults that do not adhere to the prevention tactics mentioned.

“I work with this girl who is so disrespectful. She comes to work sick all the time and coughs on everyone, doesn’t wash her hands ever and always touches food we have out,” said Joelle, an office worker. “Then she wonders why everyone else gets sick, and sure enough, she got over 10 people sick because she hacked all over.”

It may sound absurd that a grown woman would act this way, but it is safe to say that almost all of us probably know someone in our lives who behaves just like this woman. When people cough without covering their mouths, they are expelling germs into the air and, potentially, onto a person.

It is perfectly okay to inform those people that they should be covering their mouths and washing their hands. In today’s society there are too many measures readily available for excuses of poor hygiene to be made. Hospitals and doctors’ offices keep a stock supply of antibacterial hand sanitizer to ensure patient safety as well the safety of staff members and visitors. Many companies are now installing sanitizing dispensers in hopes of fighting off viruses to keep their employees healthy. This will boost their business with fewer sick days used and a fully energized staff that isn’t lagging because of illness.

Viruses can exist anywhere, but prefer a surface that will allow them to thrive. When an ill person sneezes or coughs, surfaces within a radius of about three feet are susceptible to being contaminated by the virus that was released. This is one of the largest reasons why people should cover their noses and mouths before sneezing and coughing to avoid infecting more people or surfaces around them.

I am sure many of us have been in the situation where a person has sneezed and grabbed the door handle before us. The common cold and flu viruses are spread through this type of exposure as well as others, but the most common way a virus is spread is through person-to-person contact. In the event a surface is contaminated by a virus, it is speculated that that virus may be able to live on that surface for anywhere between a few seconds and 48 hours. The lifespan of a particular virus depends on the hardiness and strength of the particular virus, the type of surface and the prevailing environment.

Small preventative measures like washing your hands before touching your face and especially before meals can strongly help in warding off common colds and flu. If you are aware of a contaminated surface, spraying a disinfectant and cleaning the surface can help to rid the area of the virus.

“I work with a man, who, every time he is sick, he comes into our office and it is almost like he wants us to get sick,” Cyndi said of her coworker. “He was recently in Mexico and came in with the flu. Thankfully it was just the normal flu and he is better now, but come on. There should be a policy forcing sick people to stay home.”

Many employers have policies that require a clean and neatly dressed employee as part of their dress code. A safe work environment is stressed by almost all businesses, but how does that pertain to illness? With the new HIPAA laws, there is a very fine line of what can be disclosed and what should be kept private. Some businesses are taking steps to require extremely ill employees to remain home until they are able to return to work healthy.

“The restaurant I work for used to never enforce servers or cooks to stay home when they were sick. Then we had an employee come in with the flu and sure enough we all came down with it and who knows how many customers,” a former restaurant manager told NEastPhilly. “After that, they have a policy set that if you are extremely sick you stay home until you are better. You would think if you were that sick, and with people’s food involved, you would know enough to stay home, but people never cease to amaze.”

Hard workers are always valued but not at the cost of others’ health.

Panic about a virus often occurs when there is a scary case – like the swine flu – that claims global concern. The truth is that you probably have a better chance of getting the regular flu than you do of the swine flu. Remaining calm and not overreacting will help prevent widespread panic. Basic sanitation practices can be used to reduce the spread of a virus. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to cover their mouth or nose before sneezing or coughing. Common courtesy for others is always appreciated.

A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com. See others here. Read other NEastPhilly columns here.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal