By Hannah K. Puder

Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Monday night football, and colorful trees all mean one thing: it’s fall. Yet there is a fall occurrence that most people tend to forget until it is too late — flu season.

What is the flu, exactly? The flu is caused by a viral infection, entering through the nose or mouth, that affects the respiratory system. The virus is spread by tiny droplets of water dispersed when someone coughs, sneezes or talks.

Immunity from the flu can rely on genetics, according to Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious disease doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Other elements, such as lack of sleep, can also diminish the body’s effectiveness to defend itself. Diet also plays a vital role. An imbalance of nutrients, carbs, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and the like, can have a drastic effect on the body’s ability to resist harmful pathogens.

So, now what? A great line of defense against the flu starts in the work place.

While OSHA requirements do not mandate vaccination for employees, it strongly urges employees to get one. Vaccination not only protects you from the flu but prevents the spread of an infection to others in the workplace. For those who dislike injections, a nasal spray option is available.

Keep a stock of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitzer handy. Sanitizing common-shared spaces in the workplace minimizes the potential of spreading an infection. Coughs and sneezes travel farther and wider than we may think — cover and clean it. Think twice before rubbing your eyes or eating food without utensils.

Get outside and get some fresh air and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps build a defense against harmful antibodies that attack the cells. Take a walk around your work site before clocking in or during your lunch break.

It’s important to plan in case you end up needing to use your sick days. Check with your HR department and familiarize yourself with the company’s sick leave policy. While federal law does not require employers to provide paid sick leave, many companies do.

Save your sick days for when you really need them. Be prepared to supply your employer with a doctor’s note. If you know you’re not feeling good, communicate with your employer ahead of time so they can be prepared if you call in sick.

And if it happens, muster up enough energy to let employers know you’ll be out, before your shift starts. We plan for these things and hope for the best.