While the Ebola virus has captured the American consciousness in the way only a deadly, fast-acting, treatment-resistant disease can, employers have a much bigger problem to contend with: influenza.
The 2014-2015 “flu season” is now underway, and while February typically has the highest number of positive respiratory tests, flu season has peaked in December in six out of the last 32 years.
“Last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record,” says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “New York alone saw more than 15,000 reported cases in the first month of the season, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the entire previous season.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) podcast, “[B]usinesses spend approximately $10.4 billion a year in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.” On top of these hard costs, some 17 million workdays are lost to the flu each year.
Fortunately, there are steps employers can take to help reduce the impact:
- According to CDC, vaccination is the single most effective way to prevent seasonal flu. Consider making vaccination available to your employees. While the CDC recommends getting vaccinated as early as October, vaccination remains beneficial throughout flu season, even if administered as late as January.
- Sick employees should be encouraged to stay home.
- Remind employees to wash hands frequently, and provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Limit meetings and allow employees to work from home more frequently.