The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Local Business

February 3, 2014

Bracing for the common cold

Employees who work while sick cost national economy billions

ANDERSON — Losing an employee for the day cuts Dick Zarse’s workforce by a fourth, but he does not want them to come to work if they are sick.

“We just don’t want it to spread,” said Zarse, owner of Broadway Press, 2112 Broadway. “If someone does come in and they are obviously ill, I will send them home.”

According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, “presenteeism” — the term for employees who work when they are sick — costs the national economy $160 billion in lost productivity.

Employees who report to work with the common cold or flu are not only less productive, they are also jeopardizing other workers and the health of customers by spreading an infection.

In January, local hospitals began limiting visitations to reduce the spread of influenza and it may have worked as the reported number of new cases are down, but officials warn this could only be a temporary reprieve.

An increase in this year's extreme weather conditions may have created a “weather-induced quarantine” naturally slowing down the spread of the flu.

“My biggest concern is that the drop in numbers might make some think that the flu wave is over. The flu concern is not over,” said Stacy Austin, a registered nurse and an infection control preventionist at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.

“The National CDC map is already starting to show another upward trend in flu activity for Indiana,” she said.

Austin urged people to stay home if they are sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that sick food handlers are responsible for 53 percent of norovirus outbreaks. Norovirus is a stomach virus and one sick food handler could infect dozens or hundreds of people.

“Don’t go to work and spread the flu virus,” she said. “It is spread not only to co-workers, but also to the family and daily contacts of your co-workers.”

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