How to Stay Healthy at Work: Flu and COVID-19

Sick days are no vacation. Because the flu virus spreads from person to person, it's possible to catch the virus at work. With the COVID-19 pandemic, safety practices are important now more than ever. There are things you can do to protect yourself in the workplace. And if you think you might be sick, there are things you can do to prevent coworkers from getting sick, too.

Viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs cause illnesses like the flu and colds. They are usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

They also can spread when you touch cold or flu viruses deposited from another person on a desktop, doorknob, desk, telephone receiver, or handrail. Some viruses and bacteria can live for 2 hours or more on hard surfaces. If you then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing your hands, the viruses or bacteria enter your body and infection can occur.

Flu prevention

The most important way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot is important to protect you, your family, and the community. It will also help reduce strain on healthcare facilities that are responding to COVID-19.

The flu vaccine is offered as a shot or as a nasal spray. You should get your yearly flu vaccine beginning in September or as soon as the vaccine is available. The timing of flu season is unpredictable and can vary from season to season. But it generally runs from October to May. It takes about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine for your body to form antibodies to protect you.

The following people should not get the flu shot without getting approval from their healthcare provider:

  • Those who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past

  • Those who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu vaccine

  • Those with a moderate to severe illness that includes a fever. These people should wait until they have recovered from their illness.

Recent data show that those with egg allergies will very rarely get a major allergic reaction to currently available flu vaccines. So the CDC no longer advises that people with egg allergies not get the flu vaccine. They also don't have to get a special flu vaccine.

COVID-19 prevention

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness. It's caused by a new (novel) coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. There are many types of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a very common cause of bronchitis. They may sometimes cause lung infection (pneumonia). Symptoms can range from mild to severe respiratory illness. You can get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

COVID-19 is a rapidly-emerging infectious disease. This means that scientists are actively researching it.

Information about COVID-19 is updated regularly. Visit the CDC website for the latest information. Or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

Protect yourself

Here are tips to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean, running water for 20 seconds. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your desk or with you at all times. After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, wash your hands or rub sanitizer into them until they are dry. Clean your hands after using public transportation or conference room equipment.

  • When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based throwaway hand wipes or gel sanitizers. Those that work contain at least 60% alcohol. Rub it into your hands and between your fingers until they are dry, which takes about 20 seconds.

  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.

  • Keep your work surface clean. Use a household disinfectant to wipe down your desk, keyboard, mouse, telephone, and other objects you touch often. Follow the directions on the label.

  • If possible, don’t use coworkers’ offices, desks, or supplies. If you must use them, wipe them down with disinfectant before and after use.

  • Don’t share eating or drinking utensils.

  • Get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available in your area.

  • The CDC advises wearing a cloth face mask in public. During a public health emergency, medical face masks may be reserved for healthcare workers. You may need to make a cloth face mask of your own. You can do this using a bandana, T-shirt, or other fabric. The CDC has instructions on how to make a mask. Wear the mask so that it covers both your nose and mouth.

  • Stay informed about COVID-19 in your area. Follow local instructions about being in public. Be aware of events in your community that may be postponed or canceled, such as school and sporting events. You may be advised not to attend public gatherings and to stay about 6 feet from others as much as possible. This is called "social distancing."

  • Consider work-from-home options and discuss with your supervisor.

  • If you are sick, stay home and don't go to work.

Protect others

Some ways to protect those around you include:

  • Keep tissues on your desk, and cough or sneeze into a tissue.

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

  • Follow your local and employer's advisories on wearing face masks.


  • If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and you have symptoms, stay home. Limit contact with others. Don't go to work, school, or out in public. Call your healthcare provider and follow their instructions.

  • If you've never had COVID-19 but are exposed to someone with it and you don't have symptoms, stay home away from others and monitor your health. This is called quarantine. Health experts recommend quarantine to help prevent spread of COVID-19 that can happen before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. Follow your provider's instructions about testing. The CDC recommends viral testing if you have had close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes) with someone known to have COVID-19.

The flu

  • Stay at home if you feel sick with flu-like symptoms like a fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Other symptoms include runny nose, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. Contact your healthcare provider to find out whether you should be tested or treated for the flu.

  • If you have a family member who has the flu but you feel well, it's safe to go to work. Check your health daily and stay home if you start to feel sick.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.