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12th December 2014

Influenza – it’s in the workplace again!

Hay fever. Pollen allergyIt’s that time of year when many people experience symptoms of the flu. Healthcare workers are at high risk of contracting the flu through providing support and care to services users and contact with the public. The battle is on throughout December and the cold winter months to prevent and contain the spread of the influenza virus. The healthcare worker experiencing symptoms may initially believe that they have a cold and not take time off work. Similar symptoms can make it difficult to make the right judgement about staying at home to rest.

Differences in symptoms between the cold and the flu

Flu symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer than a cold.

Symptoms of a cold

A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough.

Symptoms of the flu

The flu is a highly infections viral illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It causes a sudden high temperature, lethargy, headache, general aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat. Other symptoms are loss of appetite, a feeling of nausea and a cough. In the UK approximately 600 people a year die from complications of seasonal flu.

Preventing the spread of flu

Healthcare workers are generally very conscientious and considerate and dislike taking time off work as a result of an illness. The problem with a flu virus is that it is easy to spread. A person is infectious a day before the symptoms start and for a further five or six days after. It is also very easy to contract because it is airborne, spread in small droplets of fluid coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. These droplets can travel a metre or so and infect anyone within range who breathes them in.

Cross transmission can also occur via the hands. Transmission can take place if a person with flu touches hard surfaces, such as door handles, with unwashed hands, causing other people who touch the surface to unknowingly pick up the infection.


Good infection control measures will help in the containment and prevention of the spread of influenza. Good hygiene practices with careful hand washing will minimise cross infection. A strict cleaning regime covering all surfaces, such as telephones and door handles, will ensure that the influenza virus is captured and destroyed.

Good personal hygiene, including the use of tissues when coughing and sneezing, will keep the virus contained. All tissues should be disposed of hygienically and hands should be washed. Displaying posters providing information on the prevention of spread of flu will increase awareness so that everyone can take responsibility for containing the virus.

QCS Infection Control Policy

QCS provides comprehensive guidance within the infection control policies that can support your business and ensure that healthcare workers understand the importance of not working whilst ill with the flu.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Sally Beck

QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor

Sally is a multi skilled Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner with extensive experience of health, safety, quality and environmental consulting within the different industry sectors. She is also a Registered Nurse with previous nursing experience in both the private sector and the National Health Services. With extensive experience of CQC standards she has provided support and advice in implementing and managing health and safety.

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