October 25, 2014
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Infection

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Colds and flu: when to call in sick

To call in sick or not to call in sick? The question arises often during cold and flu season. Deciding whether you should take a day off may affect more than just you and your sickly self. Say it's Tuesday morning, and you awake coughing, sniffling, and sneezing - but you have a deadline to meet. You have a choice. You can either:

  • Slog in to work, spewing sneezes and rubbing your nose raw with tissue. Your eyes glaze over as you stare at your computer screen. Despite your attempts to not cough in co-workers' faces, you deposit germs all over doorknobs, keyboards, and cupboards in the office kitchen. You make your deadline, send an email to your boss (though in your mind fog, you forget to attach a crucial document), and then leave the office exhausted and sicker than you started out.

or...

  • Call in sick and sincerely apologize to your boss about the deadline, promising to send it in as soon as you're well. Stay at home to rest and recuperate. You sleep a bit, drink lots of fluids, and spread germs only to your immediate surroundings. Your cat gets tired of your coughing and goes to the other room. By late in the afternoon, you're feeling a little better. One day closer to the end of this cold.

If you chose the first option, you're guilty of a new-fangled work offence: presenteeism. The opposite of absenteeism, it means to come to work while ill, get little done, and possibly spread germs to your co-workers. People who soldier on through their illnesses by showing up at work can actually encourage more illness and cost the company money in lost productivity.

Two days after catching a cold is when symptoms usually begin, and this is the most contagious time, when people are most likely to pass on the cold to someone else. These are the days when you notice the first signs and symptoms - sneezing, runny nose, cough. Once symptoms appear, they can last anywhere from two to 14 days and remain contagious until up to three days after they clear up.

You can spread the flu virus in the day or two before symptoms set in, but you won't even know yet that you're a contagion danger. Once you're in the thick of your flu, you'll remain contagious until your symptoms have resolved. This can take a week or two.

A few sniffles and sneezes, a cough now and then - these aren't big contagion dangers as long as you practice healthy hygiene around your workplace. Wash your hands more often with soap and water, or keep a bottle of hand sanitizer convenient. Keep your hands and germs to yourself by avoiding touching too many things around your workplace. Wipe your nose or sneeze into disposable tissues and throw them in the garbage immediately after you are done using them.

But for your own good and the sake of your coworkers' health, follow these guidelines for when you should call in sick:

  • Feeling feverish: A fever is a sure-fire sign that you need to take a day off. It means that your body is working to fight off infection.
  • Ache for a break: Like a fever, body aches are signs that your body is battling a strong virus. During a cold, you may feel a bit achy, but the flu can bring on more intense body aches.
  • Severe sore throat: Minor throat pain can occur with a cold or flu virus infection. But severe sore throat may be a sign of a bacterial infection that requires a visit to your doctor.
  • Seeing colours: Two colours are sick day tip-offs - pink and green. Green mucus is a sign of bacterial infection, and conjunctivitis, or "pinkeye," is a contagious infection commonly associated with the common cold.

If your symptoms escalate, you may have another call to make, this time to the doctor's office. Seek medical attention if:

  • You have a fever of 39.5°C (103°F) or higher.
  • Fever is accompanied by aches, fatigue, sweating, or chills.
  • Your symptoms get worse rather than better or last for more than 10 days.

Amy Toffelmire


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