t’s time to talk about influenza. While flu “season” can be different in different parts of the country, the CDC and local media are already reporting localized activity in Colorado. Pinnacol experts compiled some tips to help you keep the flu at bay and your business humming along.
Flu is a serious illness that often results in lost productivity. It can also lead to medical complications for employees who are older, or who have compromised immune systems, respiratory conditions or other chronic illnesses.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the nationwide, influenza-associated annual direct cost — including hospitalization, clinic visits and medication — is $4.6 billion. Influenza causes U.S. workers to lose up to 111 million workdays, which translates to $7 billion a year in lost productivity.
Vaccinations are your first line of defense
Many businesses assist their employees in receiving vaccinations. These employers understand that vaccinated workers are less likely to succumb to the flu or, if they do, are much more likely to have milder illnesses.
- Help employees get vaccinated in the community. Employees can visit their doctor, an urgent care clinic, a retail-based walk-in clinic or even a pharmacy. Employers could check on bulk pricing with these providers. Also, many commercial health insurance plans cover a variety of recommended vaccinations. It helps to understand the benefits of employer-based plans and communicate this information to employees.
- Host a vaccination clinic. Many employers host vaccination clinics on-site to offer free or reduced-cost flu vaccines. Pinnacol wellness and benefits administrator Logan Shaver describes how he grew Pinnacol’s vaccination clinic to be so successful: “Plan on promoting your clinic months in advance with emails, posters and postings on your intranet; then we open the registration about three weeks prior. When possible, open your flu shot clinic to significant others. By allowing family members to attend, you increase the likelihood that your employees will also attend. Finally, we try to make our clinic fun and create an experience. We play music and have card or board games available for people who are waiting. The more you personalize your clinic, the greater your chances of increasing participation year after year.”
Know when the flu strikes
If you know when the flu will hit your community, you can ramp up your prevention tactics and stay ahead of it. The CDC’s FluView site tracks the spread of the flu across the United States. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducts surveillance to warn the public during the peak of flu season in Colorado regions. However, Pinnacol’s senior medical director, Tom Denberg, MD, cautions:
“It’s so difficult to time a flu outbreak precisely or with a high degree of accuracy. It’s even more important to ramp up ahead of time to support vaccinations for your workforce before flu is most likely to strike in any year. It takes people at least two weeks after a vaccination to develop the antibodies to fight the flu.”
- Tell employees to keep the flu at home. A widespread flu outbreak can negatively affect your operations if a sufficient number of employees become ill. Businesses should insist that sick employees remain at home and not put others at risk in the workplace. And if an employee develops symptoms at work, they should be excused. A simple test at a local clinic can confirm the infection. From the day that patients first develop symptoms, they should remain at home until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. Furthermore, fever should be absent without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol®. Sick employees should also avoid travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.
- Know the symptoms. During flu season, employees and their family members should be alert to the early symptoms of the illness, which include the fairly rapid onset of fatigue, body aches and chills, nonproductive cough, sore throat, high fever, and gastrointestinal problems. If these symptoms develop, it’s time to stay home with the chicken soup. Dr. Denberg describes the unmistakable symptoms: “Fatigue, achiness and high fever are common. And flu is not subtle. It can take even the strongest people down for at least a few days."
- Ramp up infection control measures. In the workplace, flu spreads rapidly through common surfaces such as doorknobs. On these surfaces, the flu virus can survive for up to 24 hours. Accordingly, consider ramping up cleaning and disinfecting schedules. Also, encourage employees to keep surfaces clean by providing them with disinfecting supplies. Frequent use of hand sanitizers and ample opportunities to wash hands with warm water and soap are important. And don’t forget to clean your phone. That thing is filthy.