I know, enough about influenza already! I’m a proponent of the old adage “too much of a good thing can be bad for you” unless of course we’re talking about chocolate, Ruffles Regular chips and Hell of a Good dip or talking about outbreaks and other geeky topics related to infection prevention. So, bear with me for yet another blog on influenza. I say “yet another” because if you’re following Talk Clean To Me you’re very likely in the Infection Prevention business and influenza (or Norovirus) has likely taken over your life.
Pediatric deaths from influenza are drastically higher (30 vs 17) compared to this point in time last year. This is also the first year ever, that the CDC has reported widespread influenza activity in all areas of the continental US by the end of the first week of January. If you equate an epi-curve to a rollercoaster ride, we had best make sure we’re buckled up and ready for a very bumpy ride! Not to belabor a point, but if you’re sick with the flu, the CDC recommends staying home from school or work for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides as most people are at peak contagiousness in the three or four days after becoming sick. When it comes to influenza from an infection prevention standpoint, we know that staying home when sick will help minimize transmission to your coworkers, but from a business perspective is there any other reason that as an employer we may want to take influenza seriously and have a sick policy in place?
According to a study published in December in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, influenza is associated with greater workplace productivity loss (sick days and presenteeism) than any other acute respiratory illnesses. Putting the statistical findings into something we can grasp a little easier, the study findings show that a typical full-time employee loses an extra half day of work per 5 day work week when infected with influenza. The researchers also concluded that the data supports the importance of widespread vaccination in working populations as a method to reduce infections.
According to the CDC, losses due to absenteeism are estimated to cost employers $1,685 per employee annually. Of interest is the fact that 60% of the total cost of sick workers is due to employees who come to work while ill. Presenteeism is costly! In fact it costs employers in the United States $150 billion annually. YOWZERS!
Knowing that this year influenza is bad, what can be done to protect staff, profits and our bottom line? Luckily, it’s not rocket science and really doesn’t cost that much. Have hand sanitizer available through the office, provide wipes to staff so they can clean their keyboards, telephones, desktops etc. Empower and engage your employees to help clean the germ hotspots around the office! They may readily jump in if you share the fact that phone receivers have been shown to harbor more than 25,000 germs per square inch! A few years ago, I heard of a hospital that would randomly page the song “Wipe Out” over the PA system. When it came on, every employee would stop what they were doing, grab a wipe and clean the high touch surfaces around them!
Do I think increasing cleaning and disinfection at work works? You bet! Up until this fall we had a facilities person who during flu season disinfected our high touch surfaces and if someone was off sick would disinfect their office or work-space. He unfortunately left and I would say our “infection rates” have been worse because of it…that and of course a whole lot of presenteeism! Thankfully a new person started this week and I’m hoping that we’ll see a rapid decrease in our illness rates!