Flu outbreak is costing companies billions
It's the worst flu season in years. Workers concerned about job security are coming to the office sick and making it worse.
This new flu season is nothing to sneeze at.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scrambling to keep up with the ever-rising numbers of people being hospitalized across the country with influenza.
In Boston, according to USA Today, hundreds of confirmed flu cases -- 10 times the total number of last year’s entire flu season -- have prompted city officials to declare a health emergency.
The CDC estimates that, on average, the flu costs employers and businesses approximately $10.4 billion dollars in direct costs for adult hospitalization and outpatient visits. But this year it is expected to take a larger toll on health – and the economy.
The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says that, along with increased health care costs and widespread absenteeism, sick workers -– worried about keeping their jobs -– are still coming to the office.
In the current, shaky economic environment, "workers are reluctant to call in sick or even use vacation days," CEO John Challenger said in a press statement. "Of course, this has significant negative consequences for the workplace, where the sick worker is not only performing at a reduced capacity, but also likely to infect others.”
Challenger has some suggestions for companies trying to keep their operations humming despite the flu outbreak:
Designate a "flu czar." One employee can help operations by monitoring the number of people out sick, coordinating requests for leave and informing employees of any company measures to combat the flu outbreak.
Enforce in-office hygiene. Challenger says employees who must go to the office should be "encouraged, if not compelled" to regularly wash their hands and use anti-bacterial wipes on their work areas. He also suggests companies maintain a 3-foot space between workers during a flu outbreak.
Allow sick employees to stay home, and have an effective leave policy. "You want to encourage workers to stay home when they are sick so they do not spread illness to co-workers," said Challenger. "You also want them to stay home to care for sick children so they are not forced to go to school and spread the virus to other kids."
Increase the number of shifts. More shifts will reduce the number of people working in an office at any given time, and reduce potential exposure to the flu.
Allow employees to telecommute and limit in-person meetings. Don’t gather large groups of employees in a confined space if it isn’t necessary. Also consider meeting via conference calls.
Of course, there are some companies in the healthcare field that may find this year’s severe influenza outbreak presents an opportunity due to increased demand for supplies.
"We are coming to the point where we are running out of testing supplies," Dr. Ed Ward, at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, told Reuters. Rush has already seen nearly the twice of number of flu patients it saw all of last year.
Companies that could benefit from sufferers' ills include pharmaceutical firms like Novartis (NVS), Sanofi (SNY), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck (MRK) that produce flu vaccines, and the makers of pain relief and cough medicines, like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Pfizer (PFE).
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Regardless of the monetary value of the outbreak, this flu is nothing to fool around with. Eight have died in seven days in Oklahoma and the meat of the season hasn't hit yet.
The flu, right here in our own country, is costing billions, eh? Then why are we continuing to promise the Afghani President billions and billions more? Even after we "pull out" in 2014?
Can we please spend our money on our own citizens for a change? Take the cost of the flu out of Karzai's pocket...
Why would you use anti-bacterial wipes against the flu? The flu is a virus...
the post office dont believe in their workers staying home !!!! they want us to come to work sick , touching all the mail and spreading the germs to the places and families we deliver to ... so every one spray your mail down lysol!!!!
Is that $1.4 billion in addition to health insurance (tax deductible) and sick leave (which is meant to be use, no?), or just a tally of the normal costs of doing business?
But the headline is more catchy this way!
I was fortunate to work for a large company a few years back that had realized it cost less $$ to take the time to line us up and give FREE flu shots than it did to have people answer the phone and relay messages and such for employees calling in sick. Healthy people at desks produce billable hours, Employees out sick sap overhead $$.
Unfortunately, for employees without a flu shot benefit, allergic to a vaccine component, or if the shot just didn't work, it's also that same corporate mentality that makes sick employees feel they must show up when they shouldn't be at work.
It's not too late to get a shot if you didn't get one this season, but it can take up to a couple weeks to build full immunity, so don't delay that decision too long.
This flu season looks like it will be a bad one this time. At least those that did get vaccinated will reduce the overall illness and death tolls from what they would be without it.
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You don't have to sign up for Medicare. The catch? If you don't enroll when you're first eligible, you could pay some serious financial penalties later in life.
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