This week, family medicine physician Charles Sevastos with Beaufort Memorial Hospital's Bluffton Primary Care office discusses when we should call in sick to work.
Question. It's the time of year where a sniffle could just be a sniffle or it could be a full-blown illness. It's hard to know when to call in sick, especially if work deadlines are looming, but I also worry about exposing my co-workers to germs. Are there any symptoms that indicate I should stay home? Is it safe to go to work if I have, say, a cough or am a bit congested but otherwise feel fine?
Answer. If you have symptoms of a cold or the flu -- fever, chills, achy muscles, sore throat, congestion, a productive cough -- you should not go to work. You want to stay home and rest. You are better off staying home for a day or two and taking care of yourself than pushing yourself too hard and getting run down.
If you try to keep up with your regular schedule instead of taking it easy, you risk getting sicker, your recovery will be longer and you will end up missing even more work. You also run the risk of developing a more serious infection or complications. Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications from the flu alone.
Staying home from work also prevents you from spreading the infection to your co-workers. Both the common cold and the flu are contagious, spreading through casual contact and through droplets in the air. For a cold, you are most contagious the first few days, which are typically the days most people tend to decide to tough it out and go to work. If you have the flu, you are contagious for up to a week -- even more reason to stay home until you're feeling better.
One symptom you should always heed is a fever. Especially if you have a temperature higher than 101 degrees, you need to stay home and talk to your doctor.
Every situation is different, however, and often it's a judgment call. If your symptoms are mild and you are not running a fever, and you feel you can perform your duties at work as well as you normally would, then you can consider going in. If you don't feel well enough to perform at your best, then you should probably stay home.
On the days you do feel up to going to work, you need to take precautions not to spread any bacteria or virus you may be carrying. You should always use good hygiene. Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer. Cover your mouth when you cough. Avoid direct physical contact with others. If you work with the elderly, with young children or with people with compromised immune systems, you should use extra caution and stay home.
As we enter the flu season now, the most important thing is prevention, so be sure to get your flu shot. The flu shot helps protect you from getting sick which in turn also helps protect your family, friends and co-workers around you.
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