Top Ways to Avoid Germs at Work When Going Through Chemo

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

When you have chemotherapy, catching a cold or the flu can wreak havoc with your body. So can a stomach flu that causes vomiting or diarrhea. But, it’s not always easy to avoid germs when you’re on the job, sharing doorknobs, copy machines and indoor air with your coworkers. And it doesn’t help that lots of people go to work even when they’re ill: About 40 million workers across the country don’t have paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. To the rescue—these tips that help your colleagues keep their germs to themselves.

Avoid the communal candy and nut jars. Or any food or drinks from colleagues, for that matter. The reason is obvious: You have no idea whether they were prepared in a sanitary way. If your coworkers know you have cancer, you can always play the “it’s bad for my cancer” card.

Keep your workspace clean. Step up the disinfecting. Studies show that a desk may boast 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat—which means you may be sharing your workspace with a lot of germs. Most cleaning crews don’t wash desks, so be sure to use disinfectant wipes daily to clean the areas in your workspace that you touch often—phone, keyboard, desk, cabinet handles and doorknob.

Use your own dishes. Sure, you know that using your own utensils, glasses and dishware is a smart move, but did you know that making sure they’re dried thoroughly is key? That’s because moisture breeds germs. And dishes that are put away wet can become contaminated with bacteria.

Stay away from the sick. Email them or call them rather than visiting their workspace. If you must be in a meeting with them, sit as far away as you can, and, whatever you do, don’t touch anything they touch.

Wash your hands. Everyone knows “Happy Birthday,” and you should sing it to yourself twice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s how long it takes for your hands to get truly clean. And don’t forget to intertwine your fingers and wash beneath your nails.

Be careful what you touch. They’re the places you and your co-workers tend to touch: the kitchen faucet; microwave, coffee pot and refrigerator door handles; copy and fax machine keypads; and water fountain and vending machine buttons. Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands right after touching.

Take some time off. A vacation can help reduce stress, thereby keeping you healthy. And staying home from work reduces your exposure to foreign germs. Consider using your vacation or sick days when it seems like something is going around the office (such as in the winter, when people have colds or the flu). If you can’t take time off, see whether you can work from home to avoid these germs.

But it’s ok if you can’t take time off.  For some people, not working during chemotherapy creates stress. Working can distract you from thinking about your cancer and prevent a disruption from your normal routine. Plus, at home you’re prone to eating comfort foods and being sedentary, which are unhealthy habits.

Watch where you put your hands. Keep your hands away from your face to reduce your risk of getting sick. Don’t touch your face or mouth, mindlessly chew on a pen or lick your thumb to turn a page.

Drink up! Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. You’ll promote good health by flushing toxins out of your body.

Avoid small children. Little ones may look fine but they may be sick without showing it. If you need to be around young children, consider wearing a face mask.

Published March 2014


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