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Higher Employment Might Mean More Cases of the Flu

Higher Employment Might Mean More Cases of the Flu

Dec. 18, 2019
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.

A 1 percentage point increase in the employment rate correlates with increases in the number of influenza-related doctor visits by about 16%, according to a new study from Ball State University. 


These effects are highly pronounced in the retail sector and health care sectors — industries with the highest levels of interpersonal contact.

The Centers for Disease Control report widespread flu activity in 16 states:  Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

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 daycare, and having frequent contact with the public, might help spread the flu.

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

Nesson points out that employment conditions can be forecast, to a fairly accurate degree, several 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.

 “Our results imply that employment in service industries — particularly retail and health care — is a particularly strong mechanism for flu spread. If our economy continues to shift to more service-oriented employment, the results presented here suggest there is greater potential for flu spread in the future.”

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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