In Arizona the flu season has reached widespread status, and it’s infected thousands of workers across the country.
In addition to being five weeks early, variations of the flu are hitting Americans hard, CBS News reports.
The strength of this year’s outbreak
In the first week of 2013, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 47 states had reported geographic influenza activity. In addition, the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness was 4.3 percent nationwide, which is significantly higher than the national historic average of 2.2 percent.
As outbreak numbers surge, Americans are heading to the internet for health information. Google’s influenza tracker, which analyzes how often people search for flu-related terms, estimates how many people are sick, Bloomberg reports. The tracker, which was developed with the CDC, found that this year’s outbreak is larger than any other sickness in the past six years, including the 2009 swine flu.
Fortunately, Arizona and surrounding states have seen relatively low numbers of outbreaks. While the flu can be a dangerous illness, it can also be easily prevented, Dr. Jon LaPook told CBS News.
“The CDC wants you to be concerned, because every year you can have tens of thousands of deaths,” he said. “And there is a very good vaccine out there and they want people to take it.”
Encourage workers to get vaccinated
The current shot encompasses all three strains of the flu, LaPook stated, and is recommended for everyone older than 6 months old. Although the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to kick in, it’s not too late to encourage employees to get it because flu season could last through April or May.
Bloomberg estimates the flu costs employers an average $10.4 billion in direct expenses for hospitalization and outpatient visits. The high cost may be associated with the low number of Americans who seek preventative medical care. When the outbreak began in November, only 37 percent of Americans had received a flu shot.
Taking preventative measures against the flu
In addition to recommending workers schedule regular medical checkups, employers can encourage proper sanitary habits in the workplace. It’s a good idea to enforce hand washing rules and educate employees on the dangers of poor hygiene.
Also, remind workers to cough or sneeze into a tissue or shirtsleeve, instead of the palms of their hands, and to dispose of used tissues.
If an employer suspects a worker is sick, they may encourage social distancing, which entails reducing the proximity, frequency and duration of contact between two people, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It may be also good idea to ask contagious employees to work from home if possible or to stay home at least 24 hours after the fever has gone away without the use of fever-reducing medications.