According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 200,000 Americans are
hospitalized for influenza infections each year.
Wellness supervisor Bonnie Ereth at Burleigh County Public Health and Dr. Laura Archuleta at St. Alexius Medical Center agree that hand washing goes a long way toward making sure you're not one of those 200,000.
"Number one is wash your hands," Ereth said, "because the virus can live anywhere from just a few seconds to up to 48 hours on surfaces."
"Most of the colds and flu that are going around are spread through airborne droplets," Archuleta said.
That means that anything a person touches during the day can potentially expose them to viruses.
"The stuff when you cough or sneeze lands on the phone or the desk or wherever, so anything you touch can have the virus from somebody else," said Archuleta. "Like in the grocery stores. Grocery carts are a very common place, because people wipe their nose, touch the grocery cart, there's the virus. The next person comes along and picks it up."
Archuleta said that many grocery stores now offer alcohol-based sanitizers to their customers for just that reason.
Other ways to avoid getting sick include getting enough rest, eating properly, avoiding crowds and airline travel during the flu season, along with regular exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic's Web site, regular exercise not only boosts a person's immune system, but people who exercise regularly also experience less severe symptoms if they do get sick and recover faster.
If a person's already sick, the best thing to do is stay home.
"The general guidelines are, especially if you've got a fever, you should be staying home," Archuleta said.
"You're usually most contagious the day before you start showing symptoms and then about 24 to 48 hours into the symptoms."
But at many jobs, there can be a lot of pressure not to call in sick. Sometimes employees feel obligated not to put their employer through the trouble of finding someone to cover their shifts or just don't feel like they can afford the time off.
"If you absolutely have to be at work, if you're dealing with the public a lot, some people will even wear a mask to prevent coughing or spreading germs that way," Archuleta said.
Masks can be purchased at most home health and medical supply stores.
"Sometimes you can even find them in hardware stores. People will use those kinds (of masks) for spraying pesticides, so a hardware store might have something like that, too," Archuleta said.
Hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers play an important role in not spreading viruses, too.
"Keep a bottle (of hand sanitizer) in your pocket and make sure you're washing your hands frequently, and avoid touching your nose and mouth," Archuleta said.
A sick employee also should try to avoid being around other employees or the public as much as possible, Ereth said.
"Our best advice is to stay home if possible," Ereth said.
(James Ziegler is a Bismarck State College student. He can be reached at 302-0822.)