How You Can Prevent the Flu at Your Office
Why is This Year's Flu Season so Severe?
The seasonal flu season of 2017-2018 appears to be on track to be one of the worst outbreaks in recent decades. On Jan 12, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/t0112-widespread-flu-activity.html) that 5.8% of all out-patient visits were for influenza-like illnesses, that flu hospitalizations had climbed to 22.7 per 100,000, and that all 48 states in the continental US were now reporting flu outbreaks at the same time (a new record).
The primary pathogen hitting us this year is H3N2, a form of influenza type A virus. The H3 viruses are notable for causing more severe flu outbreaks — resulting in more hospitalizations and more deaths.
But that's not the only risk. At present, there are two additional viral outbreaks in the U.S. to watch out for according to the CDC's weekly update (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm). The first is Type B H1N1 influenza, which is capable of causing a serious case of flu whether one has been exposed to H3N2 or not. In addition, there are also lesser outbreaks of Influenza Type B/Yamagata in the U.S. Illnesses caused by this virus are typically less severe than those caused by Type A H3N2 or Type A H1N1, but it's more contagious, so wash your hands!
Given that there are still 11 – 12 more weeks to go in the season, this year's outbreak could turn out to be as bad as the "severe" flu years of 2014-2015 and 2003-2004. The CDC reports that people older than 65 and those younger than 5 were being hospitalized at high rates, followed by those aged 50-64. Tragically, there are many reports of deaths, even among seemingly healthy young adults (https://time.com/5099042/influenza-deaths-flu/).
The Negative Effect of Flu on Businesses and the Overall Economy
What's the economic effect of seasonal flu on the U.S. Economy? In a 2007 research paper (The Annual Impact of Seasonal Influenza in the US: Measuring Disease Burden and Costs (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6292605_The_Annual_Impact_of_Seasonal_Influenza_in_the_US_Measuring_Disease_Burden_and_Costs)), investigators from the CDC found that (in an average seasonal influenza year) the total economic cost was $87.1 billion dollars.
Annual losses from influenza caused:
• $16.3 billion in lost earnings due to illness and premature deaths
• $10.4 billion in direct medical costs
• 1 million hospital days
• 4 million outpatient visits
• 610,660 life-years lost
The research firm Challenger Gray asserts that this year's increased flu activity could result in employers facing record productivity losses this year (https://www.challengergray.com/download/file/fid/528). Based on last year's flu statistics, Challenger Gray calculated the estimated number of workers (60% of the adult population) who will come down with the flu this year to be 11 million people. For this calculation, it was also assumed that each ill employee would be out of work four full 8-hour workdays (on average) — for a total of 352 million lost work hours. Multiplying that figure by the average US hourly wage ($26.63), Challenger Gray estimates that the total lost wages for the 2017-2018 flu season will total over $9 billion dollars ($9,415,586,823.84 to be exact).
Personal Health Checklist: Five Ways You Can Protect Yourself from Contracting the Flu
Here are the five key steps you can take to help prevent coming down with flu:
1. Get a Flu Shot Today
A flu shot not only helps protect you against this season's flu viruses, it helps protect those around you (a concept known as "herd immunity") who are at increased risk of contracting influenza, including seniors over 65 and children under 5.
Check with your employer or health plan to see if you can have a flu shot at no cost; many employers and carriers will reimburse you. Oftentimes, you can go to a national chain for your flu shot, including:
• CVS (https://www.cvs.com/immunizations/flu)
• Kroger (https://www.kroger.com/topic/protect-your-health-with-a-flu-shot)
• Meijer (https://www.meijer.com/content/content.jsp?pageName=meijer_pharmacy)
• RiteAid (https://www.riteaid.com/shop/info/pharmacy/services/vaccine-central/immunization-information/flu)
• Safeway (https://www.safeway.com/ShopStores/Immunizations.page)
• Walgreens (https://www.walgreens.com/pharmacy/immunization/immunization_index.jsp)
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