The Herald Bulletin

February 3, 2014

Bracing for the common cold

Employees who work while sick cost national economy billions

By Traci Moyer
The Herald Bulletin

---- — 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.”

St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital reported a decrease in the number of patients in the last 10 days, but the severity of the flu this season has been intense and of those admitted for symptoms, 50 percent require critical care.

Community Hospital Anderson has also reported a slight decrease in influenza tests in recent weeks.

“People should stay home if they are sick,” said Robin Mourey, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Community Hospital Anderson. “The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is for sick people to stay home until they are feeling better.”

Mourey said influenza spreads from person to person by droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets can travel up to six feet and land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Influenza can also spread by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it.

While the flu can be treated with antiviral drugs that lessen symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick, the best action to prevent influenza is to get a flu shot.

Symptoms of the common cold are different from the flu and typically last seven to 10 days with the worst symptoms in the first three to five days, said Chandra Petro, a family nurse practitioner at the St. Vincent Medical Group in Alexandria.

“There is no treatment which stops or cures a viral illness,” Petro said.

She said people with a cold should rest, drink plenty of fluids and follow a healthy diet.

“If running a fever higher than 100 you should stay home,” she said.

Keeping people home, however, may prove difficult, especially if they have cabin fever.

At Anderson Community Schools, Jan Koeniger, principal of Valley Grove Elementary School, said colds or other illnesses have not unusually affected school attendance so far this year.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Despite many school closings in January because of snow and cold, attendance rates at Valley Grove were 97 percent in January.

"Kids are getting bored at home and are ready to go back to school," she said.

Staff writer Stuart Hirsch contributed to this report.

Finding relief The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for cold or flu symptoms: - Get plenty of rest - Drink plenty of fluids - Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer - Avoid smoking, second-hand smoke, and other pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants) - Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain or fever - Soothe a sore throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, or lozenges - Put a warm moist cloth over the ear that hurts - Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray to help relieve nasal symptoms For children and adults, over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants and saline nasal sprays may help relieve some symptoms. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed. Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for children. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Community Hospital Anderson