July 08, 2019
1 min read

Work absenteeism during 2017-2018 higher than in previous five flu seasons

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Workplace absenteeism increased significantly during the 2017-2018 influenza season in the United States, according to study results published in MMWR.

CDC researchers analyzed workplace absenteeism during the high-severity influenza season from October 2017 through September 2018 using U.S. Census Bureau data from the Current Population Survey. They reported a sharp increase in absenteeism in November and a peak in January that was significantly higher than the average during the previous five influenza seasons. Health-related absenteeism during this season especially affected male workers and workers aged 45 to 64 years. It also disproportionately affected workers from certain states, including those living in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Absenteeism rates were higher among workers in:

  • management, business and financial occupations;
  • installation, maintenance and repair occupations; and
  • production and related occupations.

According to the researchers, the prevalence of health-related workplace absenteeism among full-time workers — defined as those working 35 hours or more per week — was 1.7% (95% CI, 1.6%-1.8%) in October 2017. It reached a peak of 3% (95% CI, 2.8%-3.2%) in January 2018 and declined thereafter to a low of 1.4% (95% CI, 1.3%-1.5%) in July, then increased gradually through August and September. The January peak significantly exceeded the epidemic threshold of approximately 2.6%.

“Public health authorities and employers might consider results from relevant absenteeism surveillance analyses when developing prevention messages and in pandemic preparedness planning,” the researchers wrote. “The most effective ways to prevent influenza transmission in the workplace include vaccination and nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently, and routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.