Although flu season stretches from October to mid-May, you had high hopes of avoiding the dreadful disease this time around. You weren't so lucky.
Because of your workaholic tendencies, you're thinking more about how a series of absences may affect your reputation among colleagues and superiors rather than your personal well-being.
And your fears may not be just reputation-based. Perhaps your employer doesn't offer paid sick days. Already living paycheck-to-paycheck, a week's worth of lost pay could significantly damage your personal finances.
While your instinct is to slog through and head into the office, that may not be a good idea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is clear about the precautions you should take if the flu hits: "If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care," according to the CDC's website.
Here are seven reasons you should fight the flu from your bed, not your cubicle.
1. Don't underestimate your boss's compassion. Your boss's hard-working mentality leaves you quivering at the thought of calling in sick. But underneath that tough exterior may be an understanding superior who would rather you take the needed time to recover rather than jeopardize the health of the entire office. "Most reasonable managers would encourage their employees to stay home if they have the flu or are not feeling well," says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Plus, according to a recent survey by SHRM, a large majority (82 percent) of organizations are encouraging employees not to come to work if they have flu- or cold-like symptoms this season.
2. Have faith in your work history. If you have a good attendance record at work and you've never abused your company's sick-day policy, let that ease your concerns about what others might think of your work ethic. "If this is an isolated event and you're doing a good job, you really have nothing to worry about," Elliott notes.
The bottom line: Be confident in your consistent performance and don't overanalyze the ramifications of a few missed days. "Have some faith and confidence in your track record," Elliott advises, adding, "Nobody's going to fire you for a day or two for having the flu."
3. Consider telecommuting. If you have the work itch and you feel physically up to laboring from the confines of your home, consider asking to telecommute. "Within the D.C. area and most metropolitan areas, most employers have a telecommuting option," Elliott says. "Take advantage of that."
4. No one likes a walking germ. You bristle at the notion that your illness can spread like wildfire at the workplace. But the reality is that it can, even through the simple act of talking. "It's not so much about surfaces with influenza as it is about aerosol transmission," says John Lynch, a doctor at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center and assistant professor at the University of Washington. "Every time you sneeze or cough, you're transmitting it from one person to the next."
You may also unknowingly be someone who's capable of infecting others on a larger scale, Lynch says, citing a study from The Journal of Infectious Diseases. "Some people probably spread a lot more virus than others ... They may just spread it farther for unclear reasons," Lynch adds.
5. Physically, you won't be up to the task. Unlike a cold, a "flu really knocks you off your feet," Lynch notes, to the point where "you can't often function."
This loss of physical willpower isn't exclusive to either blue- or white-collar workers. "To be able to sit there in front of a computer would be really hard, let alone doing any kind of manual process like delivering food or working at a cash register," Lynch says.
6. There's an upside to early-stage treatment. By detecting the flu within 24 to 48 hours, taking prescription antiviral medication like Tamiflu, and deciding to stay home, individuals without a preexisting disease can expedite their recovery time by a day or so, according to Lynch. If you go the over-the-counter route, he recommends DayQuil, NyQuil, and Tylenol as medicines that will at least help you feel better. Still, Lynch notes that recovery is ultimately based on allowing your immune system time to recover. "There's nothing to do really except symptom management," he says. "Thinking better, drinking a lot of water, taking Tylenol is not going to make the virus go away faster. It's really your immune system."
7. Inadequate treatment could worsen your condition. Being struck with the flu is bad enough, but be aware that it could potentially morph into either viral pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia. "The thing that can be really dangerous is when people have that viral pneumonia and then they get that bacterial pneumonia on top of it," Lynch says. As the CDC notes, such complications can be life-threatening.
If you're unfortunate enough to attract the flu in the weeks ahead, you'll face a choice: Eight hours in the office or in your bed? Hopefully your better judgement will kick in.
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