Sep 11, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Melinda Rogers


As a business executive, Susan Johnson is wary when flu season rolls around.

Johnson, president of Clearfield-based Futura Industries, knows all too well that an outbreak in the office can mean delays on important cases that need to move forward. “You can't run the company if you don't have people,” said Johnson, who in addition to leading Futura Industries —a major manufacturer of custom aluminum extrusions —also serves as a member of the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics Community Board of Directors. “The seasonal flu can be hard on production, which is why our company takes the time to promote flu shots for our employees.”

Johnson is hardly alone in thinking about the economic toll the impact can take on business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks how much the flu costs employers each year in the U.S., an estimated $10.4 billion is spent on direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults who contract flu viruses.

Those expenses break down to $135 per day that employers pay when an employee calls in sick, according to statistics by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. For those with jobs that don’t include paid sick time, the average person loses $92 per year when they get sick. Illness from the flu costs the average person about $130 between visiting the doctor and purchasing medicine.

The troubling part of these statistics is that many of these cases —and expenses —could be prevented with a simple flu vaccine. So how can business owners encourage employees to get a flu shot, especially workers who may be reluctant to have a dreaded needle stuck in their arm?

The key is making vaccines accessible and emphasizing the benefit of taking time out of the workday to get a shot, said Michael Magill, MD, chair of University of Utah Health’s Department of Family and Preventative Medicine. “People will always come up with reasons why they won’t or don’t think they need a flu shot —whether it’s inconvenient to schedule an appointment or they possibly think the shots are ineffective,” said Magill. “Statistics show that flu shots are generally 40 to 60 percent effective in preventing the flu, which makes the vaccine a worthwhile investment. Not only will you save yourself missed work days, you’ll also save yourself a lot of grief from a nasty bout with the flu.”

Influenza is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, bronchial tubes, and lungs. Highly contagious, the common symptoms are fever, muscle aches, sore throat and cough. It affects people of all ages, but the elderly and people with certain pulmonary and cardiac conditions are particularly at-risk when catching the flu. Although it commonly subsides in a week, it can lead to pneumonia and in some cases death.

There are generally three types of influenza: A, B, and C. Influenza types A and B cause epidemics of respiratory illness that occur almost every winter and often lead to increased rates for hospitalization and death. Public health efforts to control the impact of influenza focus on types A and B. Influenza type C usually causes either a very mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all. It doesn't cause epidemics and doesn't have the severe public health impact that influenza types A and B do.

It is important to get a flu shot every year because immunity decreases over time. Flu strains change yearly, meaning new vaccines are developed based off of projections around which strain will hit hardest each year. The vaccine is recommended for all people six months and older, including pregnant women. “Every so often, there is a strain or flu that is particularly devastating. The CDC estimates that about 36,000 people die from the flu each year in the U.S., many of them elderly,” said Magill. “Everyone should get vaccinated. It’s a good idea.”

Magill works in the health care industry, which mandates that employees get a flu shot every year to prevent passing on a flu strain to patients they may encounter in a hospital or clinic setting. Other industries can’t be as heavy-handed as health care when it comes to flu shots, but there are still incentives that can be offered to make the practice of flu shots more appealing and convenient.

The CDC, which provides businesses with materials to promote seasonal flu vaccines through its “Make it Your Business To Fight the Flu” campaign, suggests businesses set up a one-day flu clinic at their workplaces to make flu shots easy. Promoting the idea of flu shots and creating awareness about the hazards of the flu are also helpful communication strategies. Flyers, web tools and other print materials are available for business owners at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/business.

University of Utah Health Care sets up a booth for employees to receive a flu shot at its annual employee appreciation day event each fall, Magill noted. “It might be a slight discomfort for some to get a flu shot, but in the end, everyone benefits when fewer people get sick from the flu each year,” he said.

At Futura, Johnson agrees with that mentality. The company started its own on-site medical clinic a few years ago, which allows employees easy access to health care at work, including seasonal flu shots each year. Company memos and flyers on message boards encourage workers to take advantage of a free flu shot each year. The results? Ninety-five percent of employees get a flu shot each year —and that’s a good thing, Johnson said.

What Are Current Vaccine Recommendations?

While the flu vaccine you received last year will protect you from the same viruses as last year, it's still important to get a flu shot every year because immunity decreases over time. The vaccine is recommended for all people 6 months and older, including pregnant women. People who are allergic to eggs or other components of the vaccine may be told not to get the vaccine. It is especially important that people in these groups get a flu shot:

  • Pregnant women and women who plan to be pregnant during flu season
  • People 50 and older. Vaccine effectiveness may be lower for older adults, but it can significantly reduce their chances of serious illness or death from influenza.
  • Children 6 months to 19 years old
  • Residents of nursing homes and any other long-term care facilities that house people of any age who have chronic medical conditions
  • Adults and children who have chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including children with asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic lung disease of infancy, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Adults and children who have the following medical conditions:
    • Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes
    • Kidney or liver disorders
    • Weakened immune system from diseases such as HIV or AIDS or taking long-term steroids
    • Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease
  • Children and teenagers ages 6 months to 19 years who are taking aspirin as long-term therapy
  • Health care providers
  • Employees of nursing homes and chronic care facilities who have contact with patients or residents
  • Providers of home care to people at high risk
  • Household members, including children, of people in high-risk groups

What Are the Symptoms of Influenza?

Influenza is called a respiratory disease, but the whole body seems to suffer when a child has it. Children usually become suddenly ill with any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, which may be as high as 103° F (39.4° C) to 105° F (40.5° C)
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Not feeling well "all over"
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Worsening cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Most people recover from influenza within a week, but they still feel exhausted for as long as 3 to 4 weeks.


Melinda Rogers

Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist in the University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs. She can be reached at melinda.rogers@hsc.utah.edu or 801-608-9888. Follow her on Twitter: @mrogers_utah

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