Flu Cases on the Rise – The Effects on You and Your Workplace

Source: Manuel Faba Ortega - 123RF

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that influenza activity has increased in the United States. Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, influenza A(H3N2), and influenza B viruses continue to co-circulate.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

On average, 13% of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with active flu seasons seeing closer to 20%, or more than 62 million Americans, according to the CDC.

In Pennsylvania alone, flu has been detected in all 67 counties, and the number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases statewide on Jan. 26 reached close to 20,000, with 25 flu-related deaths reported, including one pediatric death.

In addition to the 100 million work days lost due to flu-related illness last season, more than one-third of those days would have been uncompensated with the costs borne by the employee, resulting in $6.8 billion in lost wages.

According to a study conducted by Walgreens, the corresponding dollar amount of lost productivity is estimated at $10 billion.

Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever*
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think 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 or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins.  Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.

Children and some people with weakened immune systems may  pass the virus for longer than 7 days.

Symptoms can begin about 2 days (but can range from 1 to 4 days)  after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. 

Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others.

Flu vaccination has important benefits. It can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

Flu vaccine also has been shown to be life-saving in children. In fact, a 2017 study showed that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from flu.

Information for who cannot get a flu vaccine and who should talk to their doctor before getting a flu vaccine is available at Who Should & Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated.