More jobs might mean more flu

A new study from Ball State University says it’s time to start paying attention to who’s sick at work – before the situation gets out of hand.

According to the study, “businesses should take precautions in advance of flu season to keep sick workers home and reduce infection rates that send people to physicians in droves.”

The study, “The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates,” also found that a 1 percentage point growth in the employment rate correlates with increases in the number of influenza-related doctor visits by about 16%.

Erik Nesson, an associate professor of economics at Ball State, said labor market-based activities – such as using public transportation and carpools, working in offices, putting children in day care and having frequent contact with the public – might help spread the flu.

In simple terms, all who have flu symptoms should stay home to avoid the spread of this highly contagious condition. Employers should take notice of who is showing symptoms at work and proactively send them home.

“Employers should consider differences in the lost productivity from many employees becoming infected with influenza versus the lost productivity from a few infected individuals taking sick leave,” Nesson said. “Workers concerned about missing pay or losing their jobs as the result of staying home from work due to illness will be less likely to heed early signs of influenza infection and stay home.

“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,” he added. “This implies that firms should consider more generous sick day policies, particularly during the flu season.”

  Nesson also explained that employment conditions can be accurately forecasted months in advance.

“This information could be used by the public health community to plan for the severity of an upcoming flu season,” he said. “For example, if the economy is on an upswing, the public health community should plan for an above normal increase in flu incidence.

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