Prepping Your Workplace for Flu Season
Posted 7/25/2017 by UHBlog
Each year, it’s not unusual to hear about a school or business where a flu outbreak spread quickly and caused a temporary shutdown. Yet, many people don’t realize how serious the virus can be or that it’s the most common vaccine-preventable illness, says infectious disease specialist Amy Ray, MD.
“Although ‘flu’ is often thought of as a minor illness, influenza infection results in about 36,000 deaths in the United States annually and many more hospitalizations,” Dr. Ray says. “Influenza can be deadly for the elderly since the stress of influenza infection leads to higher rates of strokes, pneumonia, breathing difficulties and heart attacks. Even healthy adults who become ill with influenza may miss a week of work due to fever, fatigue, body aches, headaches, sore throat and cough.”
Not only does the flu make those infected miserable, but also its impact on businesses is enormous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza costs the U.S. approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that U.S. workers lose up to 111 million workdays due to the flu, resulting in lost productivity and absenteeism.
To help ensure employees in your workplace remain healthy and productive this fall, there are several things that you can do to prepare for flu season, says Dr. Ray, including:
- Encourage employees to get a flu vaccine. The flu spreads rapidly, and its symptoms often start quickly. According to the National Institutes of Health, people start to feel sick about one to seven days after they come in contact with the virus. Most of the time symptoms appear within two to three days.
Flu vaccines for the 2017 – 2018 season become available in August and are given throughout the fall and winter seasons. For employees who are able to be vaccinated, they should get it as early as possible, Dr. Ray suggests.
- Counteract the myths. Many myths exist about the flu vaccine, such as:
- Myth 1: It causes the flu. “The influenza vaccine can’t cause an influenza infection,” Dr. Ray says. “Other respiratory viruses, including common colds, circulate in the community simultaneously as influenza, and unfortunately many patients consider colds and the flu as one in the same. If you get a flu vaccine on Friday and develop a runny nose and low-grade fever on Monday, you likely have a simple cold, not influenza.”
- Myth 2: The vaccine isn’t effective. “Flu vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, but they remain our most powerful weapon of protection,” she says. “The influenza vaccine is highly safe, and if you do acquire influenza despite vaccination, your symptoms will be less dire and hospitalization can be avoided.”
- Establish policies designed to keep employees well. According to the CDC, people with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away when they cough, sneeze or talk. For that reason, you should encourage sick workers to stay home.
“Due to how easily influenza is transmitted, employees should be encouraged to use their sick leave when they’re ill to avoid transmitting the flu within the workplace,” Dr. Ray says.
- Practice cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene. This simply means encouraging employees to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Dr. Ray suggests employers provide ample tissues near hand hygiene products – which you also have located throughout your workplace – to make this easier for your employees.
Also, encourage employees to practice good health habits, such as washing their hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand rubs.
If you’re interested in UH’s onsite flu clinic services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.
Amy Ray, MD is an infectious disease specialist, Director of Infection Control and Prevention at University Hospitals and Associate Division Chief of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Ray or any other doctor online.