Calling in sick: toughing it out or staying home | Ask Erin

For goodness’ sake, if you are obviously ill, don’t go into work.

Dear Erin,
I was raised with the understanding that if you hadn’t vomited or didn’t have a fever, you were well enough to go to school (or work).

As an adult, I can only imagine that the potential costs to a company of a contagious person going to work outweigh the benefits of that person being there. Yet our society so clearly values the opposite (a good worker never takes a sick day).

What is your advice for people who come down with an illness, yet have work responsibilities?

—Sniffling in Seabeck

Dear Sniffling,
Because I’m not a doctor (and never could be, the sight of blood makes me woozy), I called upon the medical director for Kitsap Public Health District, Scott Lindquist.

If you aren’t really sick, but wish to play hooky, don’t scam the system. But for goodness’ sake, if you are obviously ill, don’t go into work. Lindquist said you are most contagious when you have a fever. And because it’s difficult to time stomach bugs, you should stay at home if you’re vomiting.

But does that mean you should stay home for the duration of your illness?

Obviously, it depends on your sickness. But if you have a common cold and practice what Lindquist refers to as “respiratory etiquette,” then you should be able to go to work.

Most viruses are spread through fingers (sneezing into your hand and then touching a door knob, for instance). Proper hygiene drastically reduces spreading the virus throughout the workplace. Keep in mind that everyone’s work situation is different. For example, if you work with patients in a nursing home, you should be more cautious than if you are secluded in an office.

Lindquist suggests:- Wash hands frequently. Use soap and water and wash hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” (Singing in your head is fine.) Lindquist said regular soap does the job; there is no need to use antibacterial soap.- Cover your coughs and cough into the crook of your elbow, not into your hands.- Keep your hands out of the communal bowl of candy. Don’t share glasses or silverware.- Frequently clean keyboards, telephone receivers and keypads.

So far this year, there hasn’t been much flu in Kitsap, Lindquist said.

Let’s keep it that way.

Reader update: Last week I wrote about fire safety. I said to run matches under water, to make sure they are no longer lit.

David Fennewald wrote in and suggested it’s better to run them in water, but then place the extinguished matches (or cigarettes) in a fireproof container. Wait a day before putting them in the trash.

— Ask Erin is a feature of Kitsap Week. Have a question? Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo 98370 or e-mail