The annual flu season has hit the country – hitting early and hitting hard. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting 47 states are currently experiencing widespread flu epidemics. The only states not affected are California, Hawaii and Mississippi.
On Friday, the CDC confirmed deaths from the flu had reached epidemic levels, with at least 20 children having died nationwide. Officials cautioned that deaths from pneumonia and the flu typically reach epidemic levels for a week or two every year. Both the city of Boston and the state of New York have declared state of emergencies. Boston has already documented 700 cases of flu this season, compared to 70 cases for last year’s season total. In New York, there have been nearly 20,000 cases of flu reported so far this season. Last year the state had 4,400 cases reported.
Compounding the epidemic are outbreaks of a surge in a new type of norovirus and the worst whooping cough outbreak in 60 years.
The NY Times reported that early outbreak of a new norovirus includes a new strain, labeled Norovirus Sydney 2012. The virus is even more contagious than the flu. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, headache, body aches and sometimes fever. Unlike the flu, the virus isn’t spread through the air, but through contact with people who have it and through contaminated surfaces, objects, and mostly through food.
AARP recently conducted a study that found the eight “germiest” public places were restaurant menus, lemon wedges, condiment dispensers, restroom door handles, soap dispensers, grocery carts, airplane bathrooms and doctors' offices. All places where germs that spread these viruses are lurking.
Pertussis, also known as whopping cough, is unrelated to the flu or norovirus. Patients develop a hacking, constant cough and breathlessness. The CDC has confirmed almost 42,000 cases this season. Children are usually vaccinated several times against pertussis but officials say those immunizations wear off with age, leaving teenagers and adults vulnerable to the virus.
The flu epidemic has left many businesses and employers struggling with absent and ill employees. And workers struggle with the decision of going to work or staying home when they are ill. Since 40 percent of employees don’t get paid unless they work, many workers go to work even when they’re sick, either out of financial necessity or because they’re worried they will lose their jobs. This is prompting many companies to rethink their sick policies to avoid office-wide outbreaks of the flu and other infectious diseases.
There are steps that companies can take to help control the impact that an influenza epidemic or pandemic can have on the workplace. Emergency Film Group distributes Workplace Strategies for Pandemic Preparedness, a training kit to help business, industry and government facilities prepare for and mitigate the almost inevitable impacts of an influenza pandemic. To learn more about this product, please read here.
Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta GA