Influenza and the health of your business

By: Dr. Yuan-Po Tu and Dr. Dianna Chamblin, The Everett Clinic 

Flu season is coming up and it’s time for business owners to think about your most effective defense against a workplace flu outbreak – the yearly flu vaccination.

How does the flu shot help protect your business?

Vaccinating your staff reduces absenteeism and health care expenses.  It’s estimated that the flu costs the U.S. over $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays each flu season. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tens of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illness each year in our country.

When should you consider a vaccination? 

Before the onset of flu season, which usually begins at the end of October.  If you vaccinate too early, the immunity may wear off or be too low. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond with antibodies that protect against flu virus infection.

If you or your employee is over 65, there are new flu vaccines available that are more effective than the standard dose flu vaccine for seniors in preventing hospitalizations   Be sure to ask your provider about these “senior” flu vaccines.

Nasal flu vaccine (FluMist) will be available for persons age 2 to 49 years of age.

How can you reduce your risks of getting the flu?  Some Center for Disease Control, CDC, tips:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, keep your distance from others.
  2. Stay home when sick (especially if you have fevers or chills) to avoid spreading your illness to others.
  3. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and promptly dispose of the tissue.  If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  4. Clean your hands frequently with soap and water.  If you don’t have access to water, use an alcohol-based hand rub (at least 60% alcohol).
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth so you don’t contaminate yourself with flu germs.
  6. Clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school.  Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

Don’t fall victim to bad information!

Unfortunately, we hear people say, “I’m not getting the flu shot because it will give me the flu!” It’s medically impossible for someone to get the flu from the flu shot because the flu shot is developed from a dead virus. A dead virus can’t give you the flu. So why does this belief persist? Because some people will experience flu or a flu-like episode after getting their shot, but it’s not due to the shot itself.

Here are four reasons why people might experience the flu or like symptoms after getting their shot:

1) A reaction to the flu shot. Less than 1% of people who get the flu vaccine experience flu-like symptoms such as mild fever and muscle aches. While these are side effects, people wrongly attribute these side effects to actually getting the flu.

2) You’re already infected. Once you get your flu shot, it takes about 1-2 weeks for proactive immunity to develop in your body. Unfortunately, some people will get their flu shot late in the flu season (December or later) and are already infected when they get their shot. When they get sick, they will blame their illness on the flu shot, and not realize that they were going to get sick anyway.

3) Your sick, but not with the flu. Many people will attribute any sickness to “the flu,” when in reality, they have another viral illness. The flu shot doesn’t protect against all viral illnesses, just certain influenza viruses.

4) The flu shot isn’t 100% effective. You can still get the flu, even if you get your flu shot because the flu vaccine isn’t effective 100% of the time. This is especially true in older persons.

Where can you get a flu shot?

Start with your health care provider. Or, you can use this handy tool to find your closest flu vaccine provider.

For more information on this topic, check out this handy reference from the CDC, Flu Vaccine Effectiveness: Questions and Answers for Health Professionals.

Here are some other useful resources:

CDC Business Pulse

Info Graphics for Business

We would like to express our gratitude to Drs. Dianna Chamblin and Yuan-Po Tu who took time out of their busy schedules to serve as guest authors. Dr. Chamblin practices occupational medicine at The Everett Clinic and serves as The Everett Clinic’s medical director for the Centers of Occupational Health & Education (COHE). Dr. Tu practices urgent care medicine at The Everett Clinic and also specializes in flu prevention.

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