The flu doesn’t discriminate as to who it will infect, which is why it’s important to make sure your workforce is prepared for flu season — which is now in full force. While there are simple personal health practices everyone can adopt to help stay germ-free, getting an annual flu shot is the most effective way to protect against the virus.

Employees miss an average of five workdays per year due to the flu, at a cost of about $200 per person for each lost day. That means for a workforce of 250 employees, flu season could cost $250,000 in missed workdays every year. And, with between 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations from the flu each year, adopting preventative steps to cut your company’s exposure is vitally important for your employees’ health and your bottom line.

[Image: Bloomberg]
[Image: Bloomberg]

One of the most convenient options employers have in preventing the flu is on-site clinics. Some healthcare companies offer this option as part of a worksite wellness program in which they administer flu shots and provide educational materials. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on-site vaccines increase productivity and decrease absenteeism in the workplace.

Business leaders also can help increase employee participation in on-site flu shot clinics by educating their workplace on the importance of the flu shot and helping to dispel common misconceptions associated with the shot. As a physician, here are some of the most common “myths” I’ve come across:

The flu shot will make me sick. This is probably the most common flu shot misconception employees have. While a flu shot can sometimes produce minor side effects, like headache or low-grade fever, the vaccine contains inactive flu viruses that cannot cause illness.

Statistically speaking, some people will come down with the flu shortly after getting the flu shot — but, again, the illness isn’t caused by the vaccine itself. The most logical explanation for this is that the person was already exposed to flu viruses shortly before, or within two weeks after, getting vaccinated. It typically takes two weeks for the body’s immune system to fully protect itself after getting vaccinated, so it’s possible to come down with the flu in that period of time.

It’s too late to get vaccinated. It’s never too late to get a shot. Because flu season typically peaks between December and February and could last until late May, you still have time to schedule an on-site flu clinic. However, don’t wait too long. Even if employees receive the vaccination very early on in flu season (September or October), they will still benefit from protection lasting well into 2018. As always, the earlier the better.

I don’t really need a flu shot. While the vaccine’s effectiveness can vary from year to year depending on what strain is going around, research continues to support the recommendation that working adults should get vaccinated every fall. The CDC agrees, stating that a flu shot can reduce the risk of contracting the virus by between 40% and 60% if the dominant flu strain matches the vaccine.

For a healthy person, the flu often just means using a couple sick days to recover. But receiving a vaccine also prevents the spread of germs to other people, keeping the virus out of the workplace completely. Getting a flu shot protects not only the person getting vaccinated, but also his or her coworkers.

Of course, there’s always room for simple, yet effective prevention practices for the entire workforce. Wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes kills many different viruses, including the flu. Hand sanitizer also limits the spread of flu, especially if it contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol. This percentage ensures the product will have maximum effectiveness in killing germs.

There’s no better time than now to start preparing for flu season. On-site clinics go a long way in making sure employees are healthier and happier this fall and winter. And that’s a win-win for both worker and employer.

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Reed Erickson

Reed Erickson

Reed Erickson is a family physician and area medical director at urgent care clinic MedExpress.