Flu season is nearly upon us. This year’s flu season, which usually begins in November and lasts through April, will be hitting as the U.S. is battling the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there was between 39 to 56 million flu cases for last year’s flu season. In the same period, there have been nearly 7 million reported COVID-19 cases.
The CDC explains that the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different viruses. But, because the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it could be hard to tell the difference between the two based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to confirm the correct diagnosis.
In a regular year, the flu, on its own, can have a significant impact on organizations in both direct costs and lost productivity. Add in COVID-19, and the cost can be detrimental to a small business. On top of the safety precautions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, companies need to be prepared for the flu season and minimize the risk of employee illnesses by practicing flu prevention procedures.
Workplace Flu Shot Programs
This year, getting a flu vaccine will be even more critical than ever. It will not protect against COVID-19, but it has shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death and having one will help conserve health care resources. The CDC recommends getting a flu shot in September or October, but you can still get one throughout the flu season.
Many organizations are hosting on-site flu vaccinations as part of their workplace wellness programs to encourage employees to get their shots. Plus, flu shots are covered under most company healthcare plans.
If an employee is not available for the on-site flu shot event, then it is important for employers to make it easy for them to get their vaccination out of work. Employers can aid in this by letting them know of flu shot clinics in the area and giving them time to get the vaccine during work hours.
Benefits of Having a Workplace Flu Shot Program
According to Health Advocate, the cost of lost productivity due to the flu averages to be $1,000 per employee. This number does not include doctor’s visits, medication and other costs due to illnesses. Alternatively, the flu shot costs $32 per person.
There are many employer and employee benefits to having flu vaccinations in the workplace. For the employers, a flu shot program can decrease costs by reducing absences due to illnesses, as well as improve productivity and morale.
Cold and Flu Prevention Tips for the Workplace
Employees need to be informed about the contagious nature of colds and flu in the workplace and the proper way to prevent spreading these illnesses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created basic hygiene guidelines for workers to help prevent the spread of the flu in the workplace. Getting a flu shot is the best method, but additional cold and flu prevention tips for the workplace include:
- Staying at home: If employees have the symptoms of the flu, recommended that they stay at home. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, body aches, headache or vomiting. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit) ends. Employees should be encouraged to use their sick days or work from home to help prevent the spread of the flu.
- Washing your hands: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub as an interim until hand washing is possible.
- Avoid touching your face: Avoid touching the nose, mouth and eyes to prevent the spread of the germs. Also, do not shake hands or come in close contact with co-workers who might be ill.
- Cover your mouth: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper sleeve. Throw the used tissue away immediately.
- Clean surfaces: Keep frequently touched common surfaces, counters, copiers, telephones, computers, etc., clean. Wipe them down with a disinfectant.
- Be healthy: Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest and exercise.