Football games, colder temperatures and the start of the holiday season are all exciting elements of fall.
However, fall also marks the beginning of the dreaded flu season.
The timing of flu season is unpredictable and varies by year, but it’s been known to start as early as October, with a peak in February, and could last into May.
No matter the month, the flu is coming!
If a major influenza outbreak hits your community, you may face highly elevated employee absenteeism rates, which could lead to business interruption and lost production. Being prepared for a possible severe outbreak in your community will help ensure that your business runs as smoothly as possible throughout the flu season.
Have you ever considered the impact that the flu season has on your business?
Are you prepared?
Key facts about the flu
- Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness.
- Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death
- Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications
- Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby
- Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose
- You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you’re sick, as well as while you are sick
- Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop, and up to five to seven days after becoming sick; some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
- Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes
- Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick
- The highest risk groups include people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between five and 20% of the U.S. population are infected with the flu each year, tens of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die from flu-related illnesses.
The flu season costs an estimated $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually. Employers can play an important role in preventing the flu, helping to protect employees’ health, and reducing losses in productivity and revenue.
It’s been estimated that each year in the United States, the flu results in:
- 4 million outpatient visits
- Approximately 200,000 hospitalizations
- More than $87 billion in total economic burden
- Between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths
During flu season, influenza is a serious concern in the workplace. You work closely and come in direct contact with others frequently, which means germs and bacteria can spread easily from person-to-person.
As an employer, there are steps you can take to help your employees avoid catching seasonal influenza, including:
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick (stay six feet away, if possible)
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Then, dispose of the tissue in a no-touch trash bin
- Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer often
- Make sure that commonly touched objects like elevator buttons, door knobs and keyboards are disinfected
- Try not to use others workers’ supplies, phones, computers, desks, offices, work tools, etc.
- Minimize group meetings when possible – use e-mail, phones and text messaging instead
- If meetings are unavoidable, minimize close contact with others and ensure that the meeting rooms are properly ventilated
- Encourage employees to get vaccinated against seasonal flu each year, and consider offering seasonal flu shots in your workplace (employers frequently offer onsite seasonal flu vaccination to employees at no or low cost to their employees; this option can work well if the employer has an on-site occupational health clinic. If you don’t have a clinic, pharmacies and community vaccinators can be contracted to provide seasonal flu vaccination services on-site)
- Promote flu vaccination in the community. Make sure your employees know where they and their families can get seasonal flu vaccines in their community
- Additionally, find out what health care providers, pharmacies and clinics provide seasonal flu vaccines and partner with a pharmacy or provider to get your employees vaccinated
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth so that you don’t spread germs you may have come into contact with
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods; observing these general health habits can help you keep your immune system strong and less prone to illness
- Keep employees educated on prevention techniques, and encourage them to apply those strategies to their own households as well
Preparing for an outbreak
Influenza is spread easily through person-to-person contact, so the best way to prevent the spread of it in your workplace is for sick employees to stay home until their symptoms are gone.
It’s essential to review policies to ensure enough flexibility to meet the challenges that each flu season may present.
Sick leave policies should be accommodating, non-punitive, and well-communicated to encourage ill employees to stay home and allow employees to care for sick family members.
Consider implementing plans for such employees to work remotely from home if possible. By accommodating ill employees or employees with sick family members, you can keep business interruption to a minimum while also avoiding the spread of influenza throughout your workplace.
It’s important that all employees completely understand the sick leave policies and any new provisions in place, so if the flu hits, they’re informed and prepared.
In addition, you should create contingency plans for essential operations and job duties so your operations run smoothly, even in the event of absences.
Containing a local outbreak
There's a strong likelihood that your workplace will experience seasonal flu occurrences at some point during the fall or winter season. Encourage all sick employees to stay home until their symptoms subside.
Try to be flexible with ill employees, or employees who must stay home to care for their family members. If employees feel pressured to work through their illness, it will likely spread around your workplace, and you may face even more employee absence.
If your community is experiencing increased flu occurrences, you may consider canceling nonessential face-to-face meetings and travel to avoid close contact between employees. Take advantage of telecommuting, email and other remote conferencing options.
What can YOU do to prepare for the flu season?
Not only is it important for you to prepare your business for the flu season, but you may want to prepare your own family as well.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccination is the single best way to prevent the flu, as prevention is always better than cure. On average, only 46% of the U.S. population gets the flu vaccination. To prepare for flu season, arrange for annual vaccination appointments for you and your family members. Flu viruses can change from season to season and immunity declines over time so it’s important to get vaccinated each year.
The flu can affect any age, and the flu vaccination protects you and the people around you who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illnesses. For example, children younger than six months old are unable to get the flu vaccine, which is why it’s important for their caregivers to get it.
The CDC suggests that people get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the vaccine becomes available, and if possible, by October. However, as long as the flu is circulating it's never too late to get vaccinated.
- Prepare your home: It is important to anticipate the supplies and medications that you may need during a pandemic, so that they’re readily available when needed. Monitor your prescription drugs so that you always have a continuous supply in your home, and have applicable nonprescription drugs and health supplies on hand, such as pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, vitamins, etc.
- Communicate: Make plans with family and loved ones about the type of care someone will need if sick with the flu, so everyone is prepared to care for each other.
- Wash your hands: Make it routine for you to wash your hands regularly, especially before you eat and after you’ve been near someone who has been coughing or sneezing. Even if you’re exposed to the flu, washing your hands will reduce the chance of flu germs spreading to your body.
- Teach your kids to wash their hands: It’s highly likely that your children will come into contact with flu germs while at school or daycare. To minimize the chance of flu germs spreading to their bodies, and them carrying germs home from school, remind your children to use warm, soapy water to wash their hands regularly and frequently, including before meals. Stash a bottle of hand sanitizer in their backpacks as an additional defense.
- Take your symptoms seriously: If you experience fever, sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, muscle aches, fatigue, exhaustion, vomiting, diarrhea and/or headache, see your doctor. Antiviral drugs to treat your illness work best when started within two days of experiencing symptoms.
- Don’t bite your nails: If you have a habit of biting your nails, you’re giving flu germs a direct route to enter your system through your mouth and to start making you sick. Make it a point to kick the habit.
- Keep your work area clean: Regularly disinfect your work area, especially if you eat lunch at your desk. Your desk can harbor flu germs, which are easily spread through everyday activities such as shuffling papers or talking on your office phone ‒ a likely place for exposure to flu germs. To help you keep track of your desk-cleaning schedule, try putting reminders in your work calendar.
- Make your health a priority: Boost your immune system with healthy habits. Exercise regularly. Eat a well-balanced diet. Get enough sleep. Manage stress. Stop smoking. If your immune system is healthy, you reduce your chances of catching the flu.
Follow these recommendations and share them with your family and friends, and even with your children’s teachers, to help reduce the likelihood of exposure to flu germs.
Worried about the flu vaccination? Don’t be!
The flu vaccine is typically a shot in the arm that contains several small amounts of dead influenzas. These influenzas are selected for their likely popularity and will protect you from those varieties of flu.
Many of us, however, don’t like the thought of having a needle near us even for a brief few seconds. Well, you're in luck! There's now a seasonal flu shot that's been developed to work as a nasal spray. You can call ahead to your flu shot administrators to see if they have this mist as an option.
- To see a full list of flu vaccination centers in your area, simply use the locator at http://www.flu.gov/.
- The CDC foundation provides an abundance of free resources for you and your business to use as we approach flu season, including web tools, print material, infographics, and more.
- Also don’t forget, we can provide health insurance to you and your business. Give us a call, we’re here to help.
All of us here at H&H wish you continued health and safety this year!
About the author
Matthew T. Simon, CIC, CPCU
Since 2006, Matt has been a Licensed Insurance Advisor with Hill & Hamilton Insurance, an industry leading, independent insurance agency headquartered in Ohio. Prior to joining the team at H&H, he worked as an Underwriter with a regional insurance company located in Columbus, Ohio.
Matt is a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and a Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), having successfully completed the rigorous coursework and exams to earn these prestigious designations.
He’s the Vice President at H&H, serves on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Insurance Agents Association of Ohio and the Associated Risk Managers of Ohio. In 2013, Matt was awarded and recognized as the National Young Insurance Agent of the Year.