10 Signs You’re Too Sick to Go to Work

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Is the cost of presentee-ism as high as absenteeism? Presentee-ism refers to workers who are on the job but not fully functioning because of illness. More importantly, it helps spread any sickness already going around the office.

As cold and flu season approaches you will inevitably be exposed to a coworker who shouldn’t be at work (their cough or runny nose will tell you so). But how sick is too sick?

If you have the symptoms on this list, you are not going to perform your best AND you may transmit disease. Stay home from work . . . and maybe see your doctor. Keep in mind though, this doesn’t include chronic or episodic ailments such as seasonal allergies, asthma, headaches, depression, back pain, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders—that’s a different story.

  1. Fever. Anyone with a fever needs to stay home. Period.
  2. Diarrhea. Unless this is a chronic issue you face, anyone with acute onset of diarrhea needs to STAY HOME. Viral gastroenteritis is exceptionally contagious.
  3. Vomiting. Again, any viral gastroenteritis that causes vomiting is highly contagious. Think of cruise ship outbreaks of Norovirus that sicken 400 people. Stay home if you are vomiting.
  4. Acute onset of respiratory symptoms. Because so many with the flu are afebrile (no fever) in the beginning, it’s been suggested that we follow this rule: acute onset of body aches, headache, runny nose, cough, and you should stay or go home.
  5. Body aches. If you have body aches like you’ve been hit by a truck, feel weak and you want to lay down and close your eyes out of nowhere…go home. This sounds like a viral syndrome and could be influenza. Stay home. Again, half of workers with confirmed influenza were afebrile and you are contagious at this point.
  6. The “set-back.” You went back to work while sick, and felt worse the following day. This means you pushed it and went back too early. Listen to your body, stay home.
  7. Pink eye. If you have goopy discharge from your eye do not go to work or school until you’ve had your doctor check it out. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious you will give it to your co-workers for sure. You touch a keyboard, they touch a keyboard, pink eye for everyone.
  8. Wheezing and shortness of breath. With acute onset of respiratory illness with productive/junky cough and shortness of breath, stay home.
  9. Bladder infections or urinary tract infections. I see many folks who’ve toughed it out and went to work with painful urination, burning, frequency and even hematuria (peeing blood). If you have new, severe urinary symptoms leave work and see your doctor. These symptoms can worsen quickly and early antibiotic treatment is key.
  10. Vertigo. Many of you try to drive into work with an acute episode of vertigo (room-spinning dizziness) either from a viral illness or benign positional vertigo. Don’t drive, stay home.

Dr O.

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