As flu season approaches, a day at the office can turn into a germ-filled romp through a Petri dish.
That makes going to work even less appealing than usual — except for those of us who really, really don't like work.
Most people fear the flu, especially the swine variety, and would rather suffer Dilbert-quality workplace dysfunction than stay home with fever, aches and fatigue. But for hardcore job haters who would sooner endure H1N1 than another week at the office, there are ways to make the germ factory work for you.
Andrew Pekosz, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, offers some tips for earning sick days. Not that he actually recommends trying to get the flu. But if you really want to know …
Top Ten Ways to Catch the Flu at Work
No. 1: Get cozy with your co-workers
Stand within 3 feet of your sneezing and coughing colleagues. Germ-filled water droplets can travel even farther than that when they're a really fine mist, floating in the air for several minutes and even moving around the room on air currents. But those tiny, far-flying droplets aren't that likely to make you sick. You've got to get in close to get sprayed with the right stuff. "The larger particles are more infectious and more likely to get you ill," Pekosz said.
No. 2: Go ahead, dig into that bowl of communal pretzels
For best results, hit the bowl right after that colleague you always see leaving the bathroom without washing his hands. "One person who may have the flu can contaminate a number of other people if they're not practicing good hygiene," Pekosz said.
No. 3: Press the elevator button
Or touch a doorknob. Use the shared computer terminal.
And make sure you don't hit the washroom or Purell afterward. "The virus can stay there for several hours," he said.
No. 4: Wash your hands, and then …
Really soap them up. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Then touch the faucet handle, the paper towel dispenser and the door handle on the way out of the bathroom.
"As soon as you wash your hands, the first thing you touch can be contaminated again," Pekosz said. In the absence of hands-free faucets and towel dispensers, experts will tell you to scrub, crank the towel down on the dispenser, scrub some more, grab the towel and dry your hands with it, then use the towel to shut off the faucet and to grab the door handle. But why go to all that trouble when it's only going to keep you healthy enough to come to work?
No. 5: Organize a take-your-kids-to-work day
Those adorable pipsqueaks are "germ machines," Pekosz said, and not just because they're squished together in classrooms, don't keep their hands to themselves and aren't the best at hygiene. Kids have been shown to produce larger amounts of the flu virus once infected, so every kiddo sneeze packs more flu-spreading punch. Adults and kids alike can infect others with the flu before their own fever and body aches hit, but infected kids can be symptom-free for longer, making them perfect stealth flu-spreaders. "Kids can be sick for longer and start shedding virus sooner than an average adult," he said. Bonus: If it's the boss who unwittingly brings in infectious kids, he'll only have himself to blame when the whole office calls in sick.
No. 6: Skip the flu shot
If the flu shot works, that means you'll have to, too.
No. 7: Pop into the nearest mall on your coffee break
"We're always staying away from doctor's offices," Pekosz said. "There's more sick people in the mall than in the doctor's office because … your malls are where lots of people congregate."
No. 8: Be a hero
If you are feeling ill, come to work anyway. That might seem counterintuitive if your real goal is to stay home sick. But this seemingly selfless act will endear you to all those co-workers who share your desire to get sick. And because refusing to take a rest will probably make you sicker, you'll wind up needing more days off.
No. 9: Ditch the desktop hand sanitizer
Most of those sanitizers are "very, very good" at killing the flu virus, Pekosz said. Avoid at all costs.
No. 10: Skip the lunch-hour workout and pick up a fast-food lunch
Physical fitness and a healthful diet will only improve your immunity, resulting in a milder case of the flu if not causing you to fight it off completely. Who wants that?