As compared to all the years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began its current influenza tracking system back in 2010, this year’s influenza season ranks among the worst for numbers sick, hospitalizations and deaths.

“The numbers are astronomical,” says Langdon Dement, environmental health and safety (EHS) advisor for UL EHS Sustainability. “We’re barely embarking on the height of flu season, meaning there are still several more weeks to go. It’s important to take workplace measures to protect yourself, your family and your coworkers, even if you already had the flu this year, as there’s a risk of contracting a different strain.”

These steps can help you reduce the risk of getting sick with influenza, norovirus (often responsible for stomach bugs), colds, and other communicable illnesses that can be passed easily from one person to several.

1. Get vaccinated against influenza, even this late in the season, says Dement. “It’s pivotal in reducing your risk of the flu.”

2. Stay home if you’re sick. These illnesses spread easily through direct and indirect contact, droplet and airborne methods, Dement explains. Direct contact is when you touch a person’s hand who sneezed/coughed into it and then touch your own face. Indirect means touching a surface that harbors the virus and then your face. Airborne transmission is inhalation of tiny airborne virus particles.

“Most experts believe flu is transmitted by droplet form – when infectious agents are released when a person coughs, sneezes or talks, and come into direct contact with the mucosal surfaces (eyes, nose or mouth) of another individual,” says Dement. This is why a sick person can spread the flu to someone as far away as 6 feet.

“Self-isolation when you’re showing symptoms is pivotal. If workers don’t have enough sick days or make light of sickness and go to work, they risk passing it onto the rest of the workplace,” Dement says.

Also, always cover your mouth or cough/sneeze into the crock of your elbow or into a tissue. Then wash your hands, Dement advises.

3. Use a sanitizing cloth to wipe down your workstation multiple times a day, such as when you first get to work and before and after snacking. If an infectious particle resides on these surfaces, sanitizing them before you accidently touch your nose/mouth/eyes reduces your risk of getting sick, says Dement. Pay particular attention to areas such as keyboard, mouse, desk, telephone, and cellphone.

4. Wash your hands with soap and water often throughout the day. “It’s going to get redundant, but it’s a key way to reduce your risk of getting sick,” says Dement.

5. A healthcare setting that treats patients will need to use even more precautions, such as personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, face masks, respirators, goggles, and face shields) when needed, adds Dement.

6. Know when to get to a doctor. Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever or a feeling of chills/feverish (though not everyone will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Muscle/body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

Although healthy people usually get better without medical intervention, the CDC urges adults to see a healthcare professional if symptoms escalate to a persistent high fever, difficulty breathing, a rapid heartbeat, significant tiredness or confusion. “Or if you start to get better, and then suddenly feel much worse. That could indicate a secondary bacterial pneumonia, and you should seek medical attention immediately,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC Acting Director.

Emergency symptoms in kids differ.

7. A few additional tips for workplace leaders and HR specifically include:

  • Make sure your company places sanitizing wipes and sanitizer around the workplace.
  • Post signs around the workplace to reinforce and demonstrate proper handwashing.
  • Post flyers showing how to properly sneeze, cough and blow the nose.
  • Empower people to stay home when sick.

“Out of everything, it’s vital to ensure that sick people stay home. That’s one of the best ways to reduce the risk of sickness spreading throughout the workforce,” Dement says.

Hopefully these steps together can help you remain healthy during flu season and all year long.