Science and Technology News

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stop the Madness!

by MSgt Julie Meintel
445th Airlift Wing

11/19/2013 - Winter 2013/2014 -- We may not always be able to stop the madness at work, but we can stop the spread of sickness. Wintertime is prime cold and flu season, and it is one time when it's not good to share! Staying home from work when you are sick not only helps you get better faster, it also helps keep your workplace healthier.

No one likes to have to miss work because of the flu, and certainly no one enjoys the expanded to-do list and all the missed calls and emails to catch up on when back at the office. For flyers, it's a bit of a process to "call in sick" for a flight or a mission, otherwise known as "going DNIF (Duties Not Including Flying)." DNIF always involves a visit to the flight surgeon and forms to be filled out and submitted. For those of us with ground duties, it's not quite as much work to miss work, but getting back in the swing of things after you've been sick can still be tough. So should you go to work even when you are sick? How do you know when to tough it out and when to stay in bed?

Let's look at your symptoms. Do you have the sniffles? How about a deep, raspy cough that produces mucus? Are you achy and tired? Do you have the chills, even while you're sweating? Yep, you are officially too sick to go to work. Call the flight surgeon so you can get off that mission you are scheduled to fly. If you're sick and not scheduled to fly, you should still consider seeing the doctor, and take a day or two off to rest and get better. If you are sniffly but not feverish or achy and you feel okay otherwise, it's more likely allergies than a cold and you can feel safe going in to work. Make sure you bring some tissues, though!

If you have chills and you're hot and sweaty at the same time, you probably have a fever. And if you have a fever, you should stay home from work. A fever is cause to consider seeing your doctor, especially if it hangs on for a few days. A word about fevers: we probably all know or remember from health class that when you have a fever, it means you're fighting some type of infection. But there are grades of fevers, too. Not all are catastrophic and cause for alarm. A temperature of 98.6 degrees is the average normal; yours may be a touch higher or lower than that, but anything below 100 degrees would generally be considered a low-grade fever. Lace up your boots and go on in to work.

Now, about that cough. Is it a tickle in the back of your throat? Do you have postnasal drip? In that case, it is more likely to be associated with allergies rather than a cold or the flu. Is it a deep, raspy cough that leaves you a little short of breath? Are you bringing up mucus with it? This type of cough is probably a cold--possibly the flu. If it persists for more than a couple of days, see the doctor to make sure it is not something more serious, like bronchitis or even pneumonia.

Now that we have decided whether you can safely go in to work without sharing your cold with your squadron-mates, let's talk a little bit about how you can help keep your work section healthy and free from germs. These tips are useful anytime but especially during cold and flu season, when more people tend to get sick.

· Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. This one is a no-brainer. We've all had that experience when someone coughs or sneezes on you; not only is it thoroughly icky, it makes it much more likely that you will get whatever virus that person has. Try to cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hand, or use a tissue that can go right into the garbage. You touch your computer mouse, your phone, counters, doorknobs, file cabinets, and everything else with your hands, spreading those germs all over the place.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. For the same reasons you don't cough or sneeze into your hands, keep your hands and fingers away from your face so you don't cover them with germs that you share with everyone and everything with which you come into contact. In addition to that, viruses and germs can enter your body very easily through your eyes, nose, and mouth, so just avoid touching them and you will minimize your chances of catching your coworker's cold.

· Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or "Happy Birthday") several times a day. Come on, no one's listening! If you really don't want to sing, you can always just count to 20. If no soap and water is available, it's fine to use antibacterial wipes or gels, but good old soap and water will do the trick. Hand washing is so important and so effective at curbing the spread of germs that some World Health Organization researchers have estimated that if people washed their hands routinely, approximately a million deaths each year could be prevented.

· Keep surfaces clean. Wipe down your telephone handset, your keyboard, your mouse, your desk drawer handles, and your doorknobs regularly with disinfectant cleaner. This will kill any lingering germs, or at least help slow the spread of germs, and your coworkers will thank you.

· Last but definitely not least, don't be late getting your flu shot. It'll help you stay healthy, and you will be staying current at the same time.

These are just a few things to remember that will help keep you and your coworkers healthier all winter long. For more information, check out the Center for Disease Control's website at

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