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Here’s How Much the Flu Could Cost Businesses This Year

February 2, 2018, 5:10 PM UTC

This flu season is one of the most intense in recent years. Flu virus activity is currently widespread in 49 states and hospitals are seeing roughly twice the number of patients with flu-related symptoms as in a typical year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The H3N2 strain of the flu is particularly aggressive and is causing problems for everyone from children to the NFL, as the number of cases in Minneapolis spikes ahead of Super Bowl LII.

Typically, according to the CDC, the direct cost of flu season hospitalizations and outpatient care in the U.S. is approximately $10.4 billion. In the U.S., flu season typically begins in October or November and can run through May, with peaks typically occurring between December and February.

Beyond individual health care costs, businesses also take a hit as productivity is lost while employees battle sickness. Between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, according to the CDC.

The severity of the flu this season caused Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, an employment consulting firm, to update its original flu season prediction from mid-January, which projected more than $9.4 billion in lost productivity.

The new estimate raised the previous figure by 64%, predicting that more than 18 million Americans will miss at least four eight-hour shifts due to the flu virus.

Based on the average hourly wage of $26.63, that time out sick could represent more than $15.4 billion in lost productivity across the nation.

If this year’s flu season reaches the severity of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, which infected more than 60 million people, the productivity costs could be as high as $21 billion, according to the firm’s estimates.

For smaller companies, workforce illnesses can quickly put day-to-day operations on hold, but sick employees coming into work also exacerbates the problem.

“Sick workers may think they are doing the right thing by ‘toughing it out’ and coming into work when they feel ill,” Challenger, Gray, and Christmas Vice President Andrew Challenger said. However, “they are only likely to spread their illness, potentially further interrupting optimum business operations.”

Businesses can combat this loss by providing flu shots to their employees.

Although the flu vaccine is a bit less effective this year than in other recent flu seasons, getting a flu shot still helps. While it’s better to get your flu shot in the fall, it’s not too late. According to the CDC, flu activity is expected to continue for several more weeks.