It’s that time again. You’re sitting at your desk, when a sneeze gusts over from the cubicle to your right. You notice a gentle hum of sniffles hanging in the office air. The undetectable cloud of germs is surely encircling you now as the hopelessness of flu season sets in.

But just because your officemates are dropping like flies doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. We’ve got six helpful tips for warding off a cold or flu (and six that’ll help you get better if you do get sick).

1. Keep Your Distance

Sounds pretty basic, right? Stay away from sick people. Before paranoia sets in and you stop shaking everyone’s hands, though, keep in mind that a recent study revealed that those “silent spreaders,” or infected people who are not yet showing symptoms, are unlikely to make you sick. It’s the co-workers who are already coughing and sneezing that you’ll want to avoid.

2. Get a Flu Shot

This is a no-brainer. Flu shots have been known to help prevent not only influenza, but other illnesses as well. And not only are they becoming available at more and more locations (and even workplaces), your options are growing as well. If you typically avoid needles at all costs, try a nasal spray vaccine or the intradermal flu vaccine—administered with a needle that is 90% smaller than the one used for the traditional flu shot.

3. Avoid the Hot Spots

Consider the heavily touched items in your office: fax machines, coffee pots, elevator buttons. Many bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for hours—if not longer—so try to avoid contact with these hot spots. Grab the coffee pot with a tissue or hit the elevator button with your elbow. And if that’s not possible (or you just don’t want to make a scene while waiting on the 11th floor with your boss), just avoid touching your face afterward and wash your hands as soon as possible.

4. Wash Your Hands

Speaking of hand-washing—you might be tempted to keep an industrial sized hand sanitizer jug at your desk, but remember that sanitizer only kills bacteria, not viruses (like that stomach bug that’s been going around). Alcohol-based sanitizers are more effective, but nothing beats good ol’ hand washing. Head to the bathroom and lather up before eating, after staff meetings or meet-and-greets, after touching someone else’s desk or keyboard, and each time you use the restroom.

5. Sleep and Eat Well

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it’s worth thinking twice about burning the midnight oil if you’re trying hard not to get sick. When your basic needs are met, your body functions at its best. Getting seven or more hours of sleep every night and eating a well-balanced diet gives your body the fuel and rest it needs to fight those germs.

6. Get Those D’s

The vitamins, that is. We’ve all heard that Vitamin C is the trick in fighting off illnesses, but studies show that Vitamin C hardly shortens the life of a cold in most people, except in adults of “extreme conditions,” such as marathon runners. Vitamin D, on the other hand, boosts your immune cells in the lining of your lungs to fight off viruses.

So what do you do if you’re not the one dodging the office cold, but the one who has it? Take one for the team, and consider what you can do to shorten your sickness and prevent its spreading.

1. Take Off Work

This may not be a luxury you can always afford, but if you can, don’t return to work until 24 hours after your fever has broken. Even if you feel better, your officemates will definitely appreciate not being subjected to your cold. Work from home if you have to.

2. Keep Your Distance

Don’t wait until someone is shaking your hand to warn him or her that you’re under the weather. Be kind and let co-workers know that you aren’t feeling well and don’t want to risk getting anyone sick. When expressed in the right way, you’re communicating: “I don’t want you to get what I have,” rather than: “Get away from me.”

3. Get an Antiviral Shot

If you get the flu and haven’t had a flu shot yet, your doctor can administer an antiviral shot within the first 48 hours of your illness. This dramatically eases flu symptoms, and it can come in handy if you have a big meeting or an especially busy week ahead.

4. Have Zinc Lozenges on Hand

Taking zinc upon the first sign of a cold (you’ll need 75 mg a day) can dramatically reduce your symptoms. Keep a stash in your desk so that you can fight your sickness from the very first sniffle (or pass one along to a sneezing cube-mate).

5. Cover Your Coughs and Sneezes

Covering sneezes and coughs goes a long way to prevent the spread of illness. Using your hands to do this, though, is not the best route. Keep a box of tissues on hand, or for a sudden outburst, the crook of your elbow will do just fine.

6. Disinfect Your Work Space

It may be tempting to leave a stack of used tissues on your desk when you’re not feeling up to that walk to the trash can, but let’s face it—no one wants to see that. Plus, throwing away tissues and disinfecting your keyboard, telephone, and pens will lessen the likelihood of your co-workers being exposed to your cold.


The list seems long, but the steps to a healthier work environment are simple. So take a load off this flu season, and don’t panic when you hear the sniffles enter your office.

Photo of woman sneezing courtesy of Shutterstock.