The flu season in Canada, typically, begins in October and lasts until March. It peaks between the winter months of December and February.
Health and safety precautions are always essential to prevent flu transmission in the workplace. This winter, however, extra caution is advised as the flu season will overlap with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is it COVID-19 or Flu?
Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza A or B virus. COVID-19 is also a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by a new strain of the coronavirus not previously identified in humans.
Both illnesses have several symptoms in common, such as fever, cough, chills, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain and body aches. COVID-19 may also cause loss of taste and smell. Both are transmitted through respiratory droplets produced while coughing or sneezing and/or through contaminated surfaces.
Though most people recover from the flu within a week or two, like COVID-19, it can also cause life-threatening complications in those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.
Due to the similarity of symptoms, it may be impossible to tell the two illnesses apart without testing. But unlike COVID-19, there is a vaccine available for the flu.
What steps should I take to prevent an influenza outbreak in my workplace?
The safety measures to prevent spread of both viruses are the same: social distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a mask and staying home when sick. If the COVID-19 health and safety protocols are already in place in your workplace, they will also reduce the risk of an influenza outbreak.
Here are some tips to prevent influenza spread in your workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Advise your employees to get a flu shot
Encourage your staff to get vaccinated against influenza. You could offer your employees time off to go get vaccinated or set up a flu clinic at your workplace. A flu shot takes two weeks to take effect and should be taken as soon as possible.
Though the flu shot may not be a 100% effective, it will help make the flu symptoms less severe if in case one gets sick.
Review sick leave policies
Advise your staff to use their sick leave and stay at home in case they experience flu-like symptoms. You may want to offer extra sick leave to your employees or allow them to combine it with vacation leave to be able to get enough rest.
Have a daily screening procedure in place
COVID-19, the flu and common cold have several symptoms in common and it is impossible to tell them apart without testing. Employers must have a screening protocol in place to prevent symptomatic employees from coming in to work. It is best that employees experiencing related symptoms be asked to go home and self-isolate to prevent an outbreak in the workplace.
Screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms is now a legal requirement in Ontario workplaces.
Educate employees on respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene
Put up posters and flyers in your workplace sharing information on respiratory etiquette (coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into their elbow), hand hygiene, proper use of face masks and social distancing. Educate your staff about the similarities between flu and COVID-19, and how-to self-monitor. Make sure health and safety procedures are in place and being diligently followed in your workplace.
Have a response protocol ready for positive cases
If a worker experiences flu-like symptoms while at work, they should know that they must immediately isolate and go home. Have a response protocol ready in case an employee at work experiences flu or COVID-19 symptoms.
Do you need help managing your business during the COVID-19 pandemic?
For advice on HR and health and safety during the pandemic, call an expert today: 1 (888) 247-3652.