Bracing for Flu Season

Last updated: September 2016

It’s instinctual—I cringe when I hear a cough, see a sneeze. I can’t help it. After years of immunosuppressant drugs, bouts with long-lasting colds plus bronchitis and pneumonia, I am totally paranoid about catching a bug.

I need to take these medications to manage my rheumatoid arthritis, but I hate the increased susceptibility to illness that I experience. To combat it, I take vitamins that I hope boost my immunity a little and am diligent about washing my hands and trying to avoid sick people.

I’m also a big believer in vaccines and regularly get my flu shot every year. I know it isn’t perfect, but the flu shot has helped to keep me healthy and can also make it less severe, should I catch it.

But the biggest struggle I have is people coming to work sick! At my previous job I worked with the boss to explain that it was better if people did not come to work sick. In this day and age, a lot of people can work from home even while sick. But really, if someone is sick they should ideally stay home to rest and recuperate, or visit their doctor. Unfortunately, in our work culture people often work while sick, which lengthens their illness and helps to maximize the spread to others.

A lot of people don’t even have paid sick leave, which means they really feel the financial pressure to work. But recent research underscores that the spread of flu “decreases significantly” when people can count on paid sick leave.

To me this is a no brainer. Of course the flu rate will decrease if people don’t go to work and spread it around to coworkers! Think also of the commuters—the people riding the buses and trains along with the sick people. I know that I have caught various colds from airplane rides and douse myself with antibacterial/viral wash whenever I board.

Perhaps I am selfish to ask contagious people to stay home. But I also think it is for the greater good. Why needlessly get other people sick if you have paid leave? Think about the consequences to people with rheumatoid arthritis and other immune-compromised individuals. If you go to work sick or contagious, we’re not just talking about colds and flu. Often these ‘simple’ illnesses spiral into something else more severe, harder to treat, and very difficult to recover from. This means a lot of time, money, and heartache that could have been prevented simply by a day at home in bed.

So every year I brace myself for cold and flu season. I’ll talk with my doctor about when to get my flu shot. I’ll load up on antibacterial wash and wipes. And I’ll talk with my coworkers about how since I have a suppressed immune system; it would help me if they stay home when they are sick. I’ll ask them to think about staying a distance from me if they feel ill or develop symptoms. My goal is to have them think about their health as part of a community, that we can help each other stay healthy.

When a little thinking ahead can help a whole lot of people, why not? It may sound a little silly or bordering on crazy, but when you have had pneumonia you will do a lot to avoid getting it again! Sometimes it is the simple actions we take that can make the most difference in preserving health and well-being.

What do you do to prepare for cold and flu season? How do you maintain your health with immune-suppressing medications?

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