“Alcohol gel like it’s going out of fashion.”
“Giving the stink eye to the colleague who came to work with a cold.”
“Hot tea with six cloves of garlic, crushed, and five rotations under a full moon.”
Ask anyone with cystic fibrosis (CF) for their top tips on avoiding germs in the office and I guarantee they won’t come up short. It’s second nature for those of us who work or have worked in an office environment, to evaluate our surroundings to ensure we’re doing all we can to stay as healthy as possible.
We can sort remedies and prevention strategies into three categories: those verified by independent research, those seemingly proven effective by personal experience, and the gestures of blind faith which give us comfort, despite being light on evidence.
Me? I swear by avoiding door handles (yeah, I do that awkward elbow maneuver) in the office, giving the stink eye where appropriate (largely because I can’t work up the courage to suggest the colleague in question go home and get some rest while they remain contagious), and I have a garlic tea recipe for when the going gets germy.
But how about some real science?
According to the New Scientist, it’s a good move to avoid spots of carbon dioxide concentration in the office. The rationale behind this is that “odours and harmful chemicals build up in poorly ventilated offices. Carbon dioxide can reach as high as 2500 parts per million, a concentration more than six times that outdoors.” A consequence of that, aside from fatigue, can be respiratory irritation. That cough that won’t quit at your desk but disappears when you’re outside? CO2 could be the culprit. (Visit this link to read more.)
The areas in a typical office that are likely to be the worst are meeting rooms with sealed windows and closed doors. So, next time you’re in an environment like this, perhaps be the person who stands up and says, “I don’t know about you guys, but it tends to get stuffy in here. How about we keep the door open and stretch our legs during breaks?” That will benefit everyone around you, regardless of their health status. If you can position this suggestion under the guise of better productivity, then more people are likely to follow suit.
Secondly, go hard on the alcohol gel and wipes by all means, but consider that your desk might not be the place you need to wipe down first thing every morning. Door handles and areas for socializing in the office, such as a lunch area or a water cooler, are often the “germiest.” Your desk — as long as you don’t share it with a colleague — is likely to be home to bacteria from your own microbiome and not much else.
It’s hard knowing what to do with blanket scientific advice at times, especially if it feels like we’re largely powerless to alter our surroundings. But the saying holds true that knowledge is power, when appropriately implemented.
I still swear by my hot garlic, ginger, lemon, and honey concoction in the first 48 hours of coming down with a cold virus. It’s true that each ingredient has anti-viral or antibacterial qualities, but as to whether those qualities remain intact in my body, let alone in boiling water, and under the exact conditions I make it in — who can possibly say? It won’t stop me from taking it, though, as I do believe it has a beneficial effect on my mental health. The comfort of the routine and the feeling that I am taking positive action undeniably makes me feel calmer.
The colleagues who sit next to me while I’m drinking the potent brew may disagree.
Now I’d like to hear from you. If you have CF, what are your biggest gripes with the health implications of your working environment? What tips do you live by when avoiding germs or health hazards at work? Do you have any effective strategies or a supportive boss who has helped to make your workplace healthier for you?
As more people with CF enter the workplace than ever before, it’s important that our health needs in the office are considered alongside those of our coworkers.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.