Prevent the Spread of Flu

Did you know that 20% of people in the U.S. get influenza each year? More than 226,000 people are hospitalized for influenza-related complications and nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. die each year from influenza and its complications. Beyond that, flu costs businesses approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.

Employers also bear the brunt of indirect flu costs. For each episode of illness, a person has symptoms for five to six days and misses between a half day and five days of work. This is not just a disruption in the sick person’s life; it is an obstacle to how well companies function given employee absence and/or diminished employee productivity. Having the flu can be as impairing to completing certain tasks as sleep deprivation or alcohol consumption. The flu indirectly costs employers about $76.7 million a year in employee absenteeism and other indirect costs.

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system, nose, throat and lungs. It is NOT the same as the stomach “flu” viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms of influenza include headache, sore throat, chills, fever, fatigue, joint and muscle aches. During the early phase, influenza is often confused with the common cold. Symptoms usually start a day or two after being exposed.

Influenza is passed on to others through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread through direct contact with the sick person or through objects they may have touched. A person can pass it on even before they know they are sick, and up to a week after symptoms appear. Complications of influenza can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic conditions such as heart and lung problems and diabetes.

All employees should be encouraged to get the flu shot. The “flu shot” is a vaccine containing a killed virus that’s given into the muscle of the upper arm. About 1/3 of people given the shot may have some mild pain, redness or welling at the vaccination site. Less than 1% may experience mild fever or weakness that lasts about 2 days. These are not influenza, but people sometimes confuse the symptoms.

In addition to becoming vaccinated, there are a few other things to share with employees to help prevent the spread of influenza within your place of business:

  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick. They should remain home until the symptoms are improving and their temperature is less than 100 degrees for at least 24 hours without the use of ibuprofen or Tylenol.
  • Hygiene--cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, use the bend of the elbow.
  • Wash or sanitize hands often.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits – Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods.

There is no substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While not 100% effective, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza.

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