Each week, I meet with countless editors, public relations and marketing people, other reporters, sources and of course friends and family. Then there are the openings, cocktail soirees and other networking and community events. Handshaking, hugging and likely a few pecks on the cheek are de rigueur. I’m a handshake, huggy, kissy kind of gal, so all of the above is fantastic — except during cold and flu season. According to the New Orleans Health Department, flu season usually starts in October and ends in May each year, but it can change depending on the virus. Since October is in full swing, it’s probably a good time for a refresher course on flu season etiquette.
I vividly remember once discussing this topic during a happy hour meeting with a long-time source. He owns a successful PR firm and shakes hands all day. Between sipping bubbles and sharing cheese, he mindfully slipped off to the washroom to give his hands a good scrub. We discussed our flu-avoidance strategies, which for both of us involves hand sanitizer (I keep a bottle stashed in the car and in my purse) and frequent hand washing.
One could avoid handshaking and opt for a quick fist bump a la notable germ-o-phobe Howie Mandell. This is acceptable only if you know the other party very well and are in a casual environment. I do not recommend it in business meetings outside the music industry or you likely will be met with confused looks and awkward moments.
If you already are sick and staying home is not an option, it’s acceptable to head friends and associates off at the pass and preempt contact with a simple, “You may not want to shake hands with me. I think I’m coming down with something.” A source once did this with me at lunch and I was grateful to her for it.
At home, be sure to swap communal hand towels in the washroom and kitchen with fresh, clean replacements throughout the week. If they aren’t delicate linen or vintage, wash them in hot water as an added measure.
It’s both proper work etiquette and good common sense to wipe down desks, phones, keyboards and other items at your work station with disinfectant a couple of times per week. Offices are a cesspool of germs and desks and keyboards are where everything disgusting and contagious goes to live. Do yourself and your co-workers a favor and clean often.
Finally, always sneeze into the inside of your elbow — NOT in your hands. But you already knew that one, right?