A particularly virulent influenza strain, H3N2, was responsible for a record number of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths this winter. U.S. health officials say that flu-related hospitalizations were the highest they’ve been in 10 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were almost 82 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 population, breaking records set during the last severe flu season in 2014-2015.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the problem was exacerbated during the 2017-2018 flu season because the vaccines distributed across the country had mutated and were not effective against H3N2. The overall effectiveness of the vaccines was only 30 percent. Businesses felt the hit, too. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employment consulting firm, estimates the flu epidemic cost businesses $15.4 billion in lost productivity. The estimate is much higher than the $7 billion in losses suffered by businesses in 2014 during the last flu epidemic.
Employees often feel they must “tough it out’ when they feel ill — which can just as often escalate the spread of the disease. Many employers are also poorly prepared for what they should do if key employees are absent. This winter, H3N2 caused an average of four sick days. This is a good time for employers to anticipate the next flu season and create a business continuity plan in case critical business functions are interrupted.