The flu is an airborne respiratory illness that primarily affects the nose, throat, and, in more severe cases, lungs. Highly contagious and induced by the influenza virus, this seasonally-prevalent illness presents various symptoms that range from mild to severe as well as other potential complications. Over the past few years, the influenza virus has become increasingly deadly, with last year marking the most severe flu season for the United States in more than four decades – since 1976.
Flu-related deaths in the U.S. increased from a low of 12,000 deaths in the 2011-2012 season to a shocking 80,000 deaths in the 2017-2018 season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, hospitalizations related to the flu reached an all-time high of approximately 900,000 last year alone.
Interestingly, the virus deviated from its relatively predictive behavior last year as well. Typically, influenza will start in a single region of the country and then spread from there. for the 2017-2018 season, however, influenza activity was notably and particularly aggressive, as its impact remained consistent across the entire country and across all age groups for three consecutive weeks.
It is predicted that the flu will continue along its destructive path this season, a reason for concern for employers in particular. Based on the historical average, the flu is responsible for a cumulative annual loss of 17 million work days for employees in the U.S., which equates to an estimated $7 billion in lost productivity each year. According to a new estimate released by Chicago-based employment firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the cost of lost productivity for employers is likely to increase to over $21 billion in the upcoming season. The firm also noted that small to mid-sized organizations and start-ups will be the most greatly affected, as their widescale adoption of the open office concept encourages constant contact amongst employees.
Fortunately, there are a few things employers can do to mitigate the harmful impacts of influenza. First, the CDC claims that the best way to protect oneself from the flu is to get the vaccine and recommends getting vaccinated annually, regardless of age or other demographic consideration. To promote employees getting the flu shot, employers can provide resources and education on why it is important to get the vaccine as well as provide them with time off to do so. Even further, if the budget of the organization allows it, employers can offer workplace flu vaccination programs, which is basically a temporary onsite clinic where employees can get their flu shots in the office. Secondly, employers can educate their employees about other aspects of the flu and how it spreads. Simply encouraging people to disinfect their belongings regularly can effectively help minimize the spread of the virus. Lastly, employers should enforce that employees who feel ill should take time off from work to get better and avoid further spreading the illness.
Check out Wellable's infographic on how to avoid getting sick this winter!