A new study has found that for every 1 percentage point rise in employment there is a 19% rise in outpatient health visits related to influenza. The study was conducted by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers.
"A 1 percentage point increase in employment is exceptionally rare in a one-month span," said Joshua Robinson, Ph.D., associate professor of economics in the UAB Collat School of Business. "But, even a typical increase in employment would increase flu incidence by about 6 percent, which shows how a small change in employment can significantly increase the spread of a virus, particularly in jobs where you are in contact with more people."
Investigators suggest that labor market-based activities, such as public transportation, car pools, working in offices, putting children in day care and having frequent contact with the public, are likely conducive to the spread of the flu.
"Watching the shifts in employment and the types of employment being filled could help officials adjust flu predictions for the year," Robinson said.
In addition, employers should consider the effects of employees' catching the flu while at work versus the effects of a few individuals' taking sick leave.
"Many workers express concerns of missing pay or losing their jobs because they stayed home while ill, especially if the symptoms are mild," Robinson said. "If employers provided a more generous sick day policy, particularly during flu season, this could decrease the spread of the virus."