Flu season turning severe News added by Benefits Pro on February 5, 2014

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By Allen Greenberg

Each season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost in the United States because of the flu. That equals about $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity.

This year could be worse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that flu activity in recent days has picked up across the country. The flu already has claimed the lives of at least 147 young and middle-aged people in California. That’s 10 times the number killed by influenza viruses by the same time last year, health officials said.

The California deaths were caused by a strain of the influenza virus that’s sending sufferers across the nation to the doctor for flu-like symptoms at rates 50 percent higher than normal, said Lyn Finelli, head of the influenza surveillance and outbreak response team at the CDC.

All of this is why the feds have sent out reminders that everyone six months of age or older should get the flu vaccine and that, no, it’s not too late to do so.

HR managers and their employers can help, the government says.

Specifically, it encouraged businesses to host a flu vaccination clinic at work and to promote flu vaccination in general by making sure employees know where in the community they can get vaccinated.

What employees need to know about their legal rights if they have to call in sick.

The CDC put out a list of things to know about the 2013-14 flu season so far and steps people can take to protect themselves.

1. The south-central and southeastern United States were first to get hit hard this year. There likely will be several more weeks of high flu activity, especially in states where activity is just picking up, or has yet to do so. There are now 41 states reporting widespread flu, so this year’s season is in full swing. To see flu activity levels in your state click here.

2. The CDC has received a number of reports of severe flu making young and middle-aged adults sick and an increase in hospitalizations caused by H1N1. That’s the same virus that emerged in 2009. During that pandemic, younger adults and children, particularly those with medical conditions putting them at high risk for flu complications, were more affected by H1N1 than adults 65 and older. This included pregnant women and the morbidly obese.

3. Now is still a good time to get vaccinated since high flu activity probably will continue for several weeks and flu can spread as late as May. All flu vaccines this season are designed to protect against H1N1.

4. If you do become sick, prescription medications can help. Flu antiviral drugs (e.g., Tamiflu, Relenza) are prescription medicines that can shorten the length of illness and lessen symptoms. Even more importantly, these medicines can reduce your risk of serious complications, including hospitalization and death. The antiviral drugs work best when started as soon as possible after symptoms develop. People with high risk factors who get flu-like symptoms should seek medical care ASAP.

H1N1 isn’t the only strain officials are watching this year.

In Hong Kong, the government banned live chicken sales and will cull about 20,000 birds at a wholesale market after a sample imported from mainland China tested positive for the H7N9 avian influenza virus.

The H7N9 strain of bird flu has infected 96 people in China this year, killing 19, the mainland’s official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, citing the Chinese Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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