How to Stay Healthy When Your Contagious Coworker Won’t Take a Sick Day

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Don't come to work sick. It's a mandate given to employees at workplaces from coast to coast, but it doesn't stop people from arriving at the office clutching the Kleenex. Yes, there are deadlines to meet and meetings that feel too important to skip. But sometimes a day's rest under a fluffy duvet with a bowl of chicken noodle soup is all it takes to get on the mend. So, how do you avoid getting sick at work, especially when a sickly coworker refuses to take a day off? (Darn you, open-plan offices!)

People pose this question to Eddie Fatakhov, MD, a lot this time of year. You can't control whether or not your contagious coworker takes a sick day, but you can be proactive about your own health. In addition to getting a flu shot, here's how to decrease the odds of catching whatever is going around the office:

1. Give communal spaces a frequent and thorough wipe-down. "The use of a simple disinfectant wipe on light switches, doorknobs, and  computer keyboards can minimize exposure to germs and viruses," says Dr. Fatakhov. Literally any surface or object you share with your coworkers is worth making sure is disinfected. And while sharing is great and all (you know, most of the time), if people in the office are getting sick left and right, try to minimize your exposure to their germs by bringing in your own coffee mug from home or being a little stingy when it comes to letting people borrow your pens.

2. Avoid touching your face. The rest of the year, biting your nails or mindlessly touching your face may be NBD, but Dr. Fatakhov says flu season is the time to be most conscious of your actions. "The best ways to transmit germs and viruses from surfaces and your hands is to touch your face—specifically your mouth and eyes," he says. "This direct introduction can lead to cold, flu, and other illness, such as respiratory infection. So if you are a nail biter, sandwich eater, nose wiper, or eye rubber, either take a break from these actions or increase your hand washing even more."

3. Wash your hands. You know this one, right? It's command you've heard time and time again—even read on pleading signs in every restaurant bathroom—because it works. "Think of every communal thing you touch on a daily basis—doors and door knobs, stair rails, other people, countertops, restaurant chairs…the list goes on and on. Because we are so hands-on, the chances of spreading cold germs and flu virus is very high," says Dr. Fatakhov. "Combatting this spread is simple: Wash your hands frequently and make sure you are doing it correctly!" He also recommends keeping hand sanitizer at your desk to use when you can't wash your hands.

4. Get enough sleep. Keeping your immune system in top shape, ready to fight off any bacterial or viral invaders, means getting good quality sleep every night. "Your immune system is your main line of defense against cold and flu and sleep deprivation is a major hindrance to your immune system," says Dr. Fatakhov. "Not only will getting enough sleep help your body defend itself it will also increase your energy during the day."

5. Hit the gym. Working out regularly is another way to boost your immune system, according to Dr. Fatakhov. "Reducing excess weight can be key when preventing colds and the flu since many studies have shown that overweight and obese people are more susceptible to injury and illness," he says. Just be sure to bring your hand sanitizer along to use after using all those shared weights and equipment!

If you live in a small town, here's why these tips are of particular importance. And here's the verdict if you should still work out if you're feeling under the weather.

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