IT’S the bane of every workplace. The colleague who sniffles, sneezes and snorts through the work day, spreading insidious germs around the office.

Sound repulsive? Well we’ve almost all done it.

According to a survey released on Thursday to coincide with the beginning of the flu vaccination season, nine in 10 Australians admit to turning up to work sick.

Most of the time they battle on in the office because they don’t want to let their colleagues down or miss deadlines, according to the survey by the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG).

One in five sick workers also believes flu symptoms are not serious enough to keep them at home, a falsehood that costs the economy $34 billion a year.

The survey of 1068 people examined attitudes towards presenteeism – the phenomenon where employees turn up to work when sick – and looked at Australians’ flu etiquette.

It found 70 per cent of respondents confessed to participating in social activities despite having flu symptoms.

ISG chairman Dr Alan Hampson said people underestimated how serious the flu could be.

It was a timely warning for people to get “flu-smart” and get immunised to potentially save lives this season.

“People need to take the flu much more seriously as it is a potentially fatal disease that is estimated to cause more deaths than accidents on roads,” Dr Hampson said in a statement.

University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy said presenteeism was a major concern during flu season, especially for people who are at high risk.

They include pregnant women, those aged over 65, people with underlying medical conditions and indigenous Australians.

The survey also found while more than 80 per cent of Australians would move away from a person displaying flu symptoms, only 10 per cent would tell a person with the flu to keep their distance.

When it comes to flu etiquette, Australia comes sixth in the Global Hygiene Council’s world rankings, with one third of us not bothering to disinfect our hands or wash them frequently when ill.