According to Dr Ryan Harvey, Assistant Clinical Director at House Call Doctor, the best way to avoid catching the flu is by getting an annual flu vaccine.
But do you have to have the flu to call in sick?
In a survey by adzuna.com.au, 2.3 million Australians admitted to taking at least one illegitimate sick day in the last year. But ironically it's the first few days of a cold when you're most contagious even though they're the days when you don't necessarily feel that bad – yet.
So are you bludging by taking a day off when you feel mildly unwell or should you just soldier on?
Am I contagious?
According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Journal, the incubation period of the common cold varies, and generally, it's just under two days but Harvey says it could be longer.
“In some cases, seemingly healthy adults can infect others before symptoms even appear and up to five to seven days after becoming sick," he says.
The signs and symptoms of the common cold overlap with influenza but the latter is much more severe, and in both cases, you're actually more likely to spread your germs just before the symptoms fully kick in.
“A cold typically comes on gradually and the recovery period can be up to a week," says Harvey. "A flu commonly comes on more suddenly and symptoms can be severe lasting up to two weeks.”
So the best time to take a sick day is probably right at the beginning when you start to feel the a sore throat and before it turns into a full blown problem.
Symptoms of a cold
- runny nose
- slight temperature
- sore throat
- general malaise
Symptoms of the flu
- body aches
- chills and sweating
Dr Sara Whitburn, spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practice says it can take up to two weeks for a cold or flu to resolve so if you want to get well as soon as possible, taking those days off early on could be the key.
Are you burnt out?
Stress and poor sleep can contribute to the chances of catching a cold so what about those days when you're feeling burnt out but are otherwise well? Is it better to take a mental health day to avoid catching a cold and taking even more sick days?
A report published by the American Psychological Association says that stress weakens the immune system and when you're already sick, your immunity is affected even more, which builds a case for taking time off when you're feeling burnt out.
Staying on top of our wellness – and that includes our mental health – can help prevent catching colds and flu in the first place. And eating well is vital.
“Maintaining a diet rich in vitamins is important to overall health and immune function," says Harvey. "This includes lots of colourful fruits which are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and water.”
Eating, sleeping and exercising are preventative measures that can help sustain good health. Knowing when to stop before you reach burnout could also be one of the best health measures you take this year.
So is taking a sick day the right thing to do?
Will you be more productive tomorrow?
An article published in Harvard Business Review makes a case for taking time off in order to stay well.
According to the article, "statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home." Taking time off actually makes you more productive.
So isn't that a strong case for calling in sick? Not exactly.
Holidays are a necessary part of working life and without them we tend to become tired and stressed, which leads to suppressed immunity and a greater chance of catching that cold but it doesn't answer the question of whether taking a day off when you have a cold is the right choice.
The idea of taking holidays extends to the broader health issue inferring that we need to take time off in order to stay well in the first place. And not catching a cold isn't the only benefit.
A study by Project Time Off found that taking holidays not only decreased workers' stress levels (making them less likely to get sick), but it puts you at a higher chance of getting a payrise.
According to the report in the Harvard Business Review, "People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period of time. People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus."
So, should you call in sick if you have a cold or flu?
The short answer is yes. But the broader picture is to eat your greens, take holidays and stay well year-round.
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