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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Study shows taking flu to work spreads to others, especially in service-related jobs

While some employees think they are being responsible or strong by “sucking it up” and going to work even though they feel lousy, the truth is, they may be spreading their illness to others, resulting in lower productivity at their workplace.

And a recent Ball State University study goes even further, suggesting that low unemployment figures at this time of the year may be a result of the increase in cases of the flu.

A research paper entitled, “The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates, authored by Ball State associate professor of economics Erik Nesson, says that a 1% increase in the employment rate increases the number of influenza-related doctor visits by about 16%, particularly among workers in the retail and health care sectors, which usually have high levels of interpersonal contact.

In their paper — https://www.nber.org/papers/w15796.pdf — Nesson and colleagues Sara Markowitz and Joshua Robinson examined “whether increases in employment are associated with increased incidence of the flu.” They used state-level data on the prevalence of the flu from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Since a person may be infectious while experiencing mild symptoms, this greatly increases the probability that the virus will spread to other workers in the firm,” Nesson said in a story in the Anderson Herald-Bulletin last week. “This implies that firms should consider more generous sick day policies, particularly during the flu season.”

Nesson explained that industries with the highest rates of job growth are powered by workers who may regularly encounter breeding grounds for the influenza virus, such as public transportation, offices, day care centers for their children and jobs that require frequent contact with the public.

Bottom line, Nesson told the Herald-Bulletin, “If our economy continues to shift toward more service-oriented employment, the results here suggest there is greater potential for flu spread in the future.”

Thus, he thinks his research should be considered by the public health community in planning for flu seasons in the future, taking special note of the possibility indicated in the study that service industries may be “strong mechanisms” for spreading the flu.

News-Sentinel.com would at least recommend a higher level of personal responsibility for those who work in these industries to take necessary precautions against spreading the flu, or any other infectious disease. Get flu shots, wash your hands, cover your coughs or sneezes with your arm, drink lots of fluids.

The CDC says the U.S. flu season occurs in the fall and winter, usually peaking between December and February. It reports more influenza B/Victoria virus activity is being reported nationally, which is the predominant virus reported at the end of most flu seasons. And it is a strain of the virus covered by the 2019 flu vaccine.

Flu activity in Indiana is continuing to increase and has hit people 24-years of age and younger hardest, but is now also beginning to increase in the adult population. There have been three flu-related deaths in Indiana this season, all in people 65-years or older.

The CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine each season, saying it is particularly important for those at high risk of serious complications from influenza.

At a news conference on Dec. 16, Allen County Health commissioner Deborah McMahan, M.D., emphasized the importance of getting a flu shot before it’s too late. She pointed out that Christmas and New Year’s is when incidence of the virus is expected to rise.

So get your flu shots now, if you haven’t already.

And if you’re sick, don’t go to work.

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