Contagious Viruses You’re Most Likely to Catch at Work (and How to Avoid Them)

Many contagious viruses are mostly harmless. But they can make you feel a lot worse off than you are. And when you have to miss work because of them — both because you feel terrible and to protect your coworkers — you’re left at a major disadvantage. Thankfully, many common infections can be mostly prevented both at home and at the office.

Here are the most common illnesses you’re likely to catch at work, and everything you can do to prevent getting sick (or avoid getting others you work with sick).

The flu


Flu | kosmos111/iStock/Getty Images

Influenza or “flu” is a virus that infects your nose, throat, and lungs. It can be spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing or by using an object (e.g., a keyboard) contaminated with germs and then touching your eyes or mouth.

The most common symptoms of influenza include:

  • Fever, muscle aches, and chills
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • A sSore throat
  • A dry cough.

Getting an annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best and most effective way to protect yourself against different strains of the flu.

To avoid spreading the flu if you already have it, the CDC recommends washing your hands often, covering your mouth if coughing or sneezing, and staying home when experiencing more severe symptoms if you can.

The common cold

A cold might be caused by a number of different viruses. But it’s easy to catch from someone else if you don’t take the necessary precautions to protect against it.

Symptoms vary from person to person — your friend might have a cold that looks completely different than yours. But some of the most common symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • A general “unwell” feeling.

Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent catching a cold. But doing what you can to help your immune system fend off the virus can also make a difference. Make sure you’re exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep.

The average common cold lasts anywhere from a week to 10 days.



Norovirus |

A norovirus infection can cause sudden, sometimes severe symptoms that usually only last a few days. Unfortunately, the virus can spread easily from person to person or through contaminated surfaces or food.

People infected with norovirus most often experience:

  • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Low-grade fever.

The best way to prevent this infection is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. If you have norovirus or similar symptoms, stay home from work if you can — especially if your job involves handling food.

Most people who contract norovirus recover within two to three days without treatment.

Viral gastroenteritis (the stomach flu)

Unlike influenza, which is a respiratory infection, the stomach flu is an intestinal infection that causes digestive problems for a short period of time. It is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water or by coming into contact with someone infected with the virus.

The most common symptoms of the stomach flu include:

  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • A low-grade fever.

The stomach flu also sometimes causes muscle aches and headaches. The best way to prevent it is to wash your hands often — more often than you think you need to, especially while at work.

The average healthy individual will recover from the stomach flu without serious complications.