Got the Flu? You Should Stay Home!

Flu symptoms don't keep Americans from going to work, school

iVillage member puss_boo_kay rang in 2011 with an unwelcome guest: The flu. She spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s sick in bed because one of her family members decided she had to show up to a holiday party, despite being wracked with a fever, body aches and chills. She also hid it from everyone to avoid being sent home, because, she said later in defense, she didn’t want to spend the holidays alone.

Puss_boo_kay’s relative was being what the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) would call “that guy” -- the person who shows up to work when sick, carrying a trail of germs that will inevitably infect everyone around him.

Don’t you just hate those people? Well, who doesn’t? Of course, if we’re honest with ourselves, we might find we’re just as guilty of their behavior. According to a recent survey, almost seven out of 10 people polled confessed that they had gone about their daily activities while experiencing flu symptoms. That’s why the NFID has launched a national campaign telling people to stop being “that guy” and stay home when we’re sick -- no excuses.

That also goes for our kids.

Kids just love sharing germs. They’ll mash their snot-covered face into their best friend’s, or offer up a toy dripping in saliva. But even if our kids were the poster children for hygiene, practicing proper sick-person etiquette by sneezing and coughing into the elbow and washing his or her hands like a person with OCD, the flu is extremely contagious.

According to the CDC, the flu virus can survive outside the body for two to eight hours. Doorknobs, phones, dirty tissues, water bottles and pens are all plausible places where its germs may be lurking. Even if you don’t handle something that a flu-infected person touched, rubbing shoulders with the wrong people can also get you sick. Think of the flu as the circus daredevil who gets shot out of a cannon. When somebody coughs or sneezes, the virus can travel up to six feet. Not to completely gross you out, but if the virus lands in your eyes, nose or mouth -- or on anything you touch before putting your fingers in aforementioned orifices -- you might as well head home to bed for the week -- which is exactly what happened to Puss_boo_kay.

We asked women on the iVillage message boards how they felt about their coworkers showing up to the office when they’re sick. While no one was of the opinion that it’s a free country and we should all be entitled to do what we want, flu or not, even puss_boo_kay expressed sympathy for those with bosses who turn sick days into guilt trips. “Although it does bug the heck out of me, I do understand that there are people who truly have to be ‘that guy’ in order to remain employed. While I get aggravated, I can't really fault them,” she says.

But even in the most supportive work environments, people will still show up sick, because they don’t want their work to pile up. “We had a generous sick leave policy, so I never understood why they wouldn't take a couple of days to rest and recuperate. No one is indispensable for the time it takes to get over a cold, or at least get past the contagious period,” says bunsofclay.

“I worked in one office where there was a woman who never missed a day if she was sick. It didn't matter if she was running a 103-degree fever, hacking, coughing or couldn't talk because her laryngitis was so bad. Inevitably, someone else was taking a day or two off a few days later because of the same symptoms. It would make the rest of us so mad that the instigator wouldn't just stay home a day and recover rather than exposing the rest of us to her illness,” says cmamyd.

I admit: I used to be one of those people. I won the perfect attendance certificate in first grade -- so of course it became engrained in me that this was laudable behavior. Plus, I dreaded making the call to my boss that I wasn’t feeling well. I was afraid I’d be judged or thought a liar, so I’d ham it up to make it sound like I was on my deathbed. Once email came along and I didn’t have to dial it in, I became much more adept at taking a sick day. Maybe too adept. Now, I work from home and have no excuse to not work. My laptop can all too conveniently sit in bed with me, and the only viruses it’s afraid of getting are the kind that I can’t give it.

Confess: How many times have you gone to work, school or gotten on a plane or subway when you were an infectious, sniffling mess? Chime in on the message boards or post your response below.

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