Practical H1N1 Prevention Strategies for Web Workers


1180561_swine_fluThe second wave of H1N1 swine flu is here. Vaccine’s in short supply, so we need alternate strategies for coping with the pandemic, the consequences of which could include a lack of Internet bandwidth capacity if large numbers of workers opt for staying home and telecommuting via the web, according to a new report prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Many of us work from home already, which does afford distinct advantages for infection avoidance during rampant epidemics. However, many web workers operate at least part of the time out of offices, call centers, and institutional settings where some colleagues will imagine they not only have a “right,” but even an obligation, to show up at work with the flu so long as they’re able to stagger in — a problem known as presenteeism, which Karen has written about previously.

So what can you do if you can’t operate entirely from home?

The usual advice to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, to wear gloves as much as is practical when touching common access surfaces and protective masks when within six feet of infected people is sound. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with hands unless they’ve just been washed and not re-contaminated by contact with taps, door handles or other surfaces that may have been touched by infected individuals. Influenza A and B viruses can survive 24-48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as metals and plastic, and 8-12 hours on cloth, paper and tissues. Frequently disinfect shared-access surfaces that may have been touched or sneezed/coughed on by victims of the virus.

Computer input devices and especially cellphones used by more than one person can be efficient disease vectors. An Apple Knowledge Base article on the topic advises:

“In addition to regular cleaning of your computer and input devices (keyboards, trackpads, and mice), you may find it necessary to disinfect them.

“Multiple people using the same computer, people using the computer when they were ill, and the particular environment where the computer is used, are a few reasons you may wish to disinfect areas of the computer that people come into contact with the most.”

The article goes on to suggest: “In order to properly disinfect these areas, you should use Lysol Wipes, Clorox Disinfecting wipes, or Clorox Kitchen Disinfecting Wipes….”

Another strategy of prevention in the office is use of keyboards, mice, mouse pads, wrist rests and even cellphones that have been coated with antimicrobial agents, either organic (this means antibiotics, which are possibly not so good for you) or (preferably) silver-based.

If enough of us employ these precautionary and preventative strategies, we can hopefully get through this flu season with a minimum of disruption.

What flu prevention strategies are you using?

Image credit: stock.xchng user mzacha.



My solution, stop calling it swine flu. By referring to it as H1N1, people realize it’s just a flu, and nothing more.

In fact many of my coworkers had it, I’m not sure if I did, but if so it felt just like a cold.

John Dowdell

Those “shared computer workspace” scenarios seem particularly icky….

Two more practical ways to increase the odds: adequate sleep, and keeping nasal passages moist. The former keeps the immune system humming as best it can. The latter, whether through saline nasal spray or a facemask for moister air intake, and help make a more daunting environment for droplets to set up shop.

Eugene Kan

I was taking it before but I’ve always been an advocate for vitamin D supplements. Given that we all work at home and away from sunlight for the most part, we’re all severely lacking in vitamin D. Some studies have also shown that vitamin D may help against H1N1.


Yes, it’s an aggressive flu. Yes, you get some marginal protection by obsessive hygiene. But it’s statistically doubtful you can prevent infection by becoming a germophobe.

Also keep in mind that human immune response is a system that relies on learning. Stating it plainly: avoiding antigens cripples your immune system further along the road through lack of training. If you don’t belong to a high risk group, just ride it out. Either you get the flu or you don’t. You’ll be stronger after it passes.

Darrell Etherington

I only just got over a case of H1N1, and I was lucky enough to be able to totally sequester myself away from anyone during my contagious period. Let me tell you, though, that even though I was able to do all my work from home, that didn’t necessarily mean I got it done.

I assumed H1N1 would be like any other flu, but I was literally floored by it. My work suffered as a result, something Simon can attest to. My advice for H1N1 preparedness is then to build up a buffer if you can until the flu season passes. That way, the down time won’t have as much of an impact on your productivity.

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