By the numbers, the last flu season took its toll on workers, parents and children in terms of lost workdays, lost wages and missed school days, among other effects, according to a new report from Walgreen Co.

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Flu exacts toll on workers, Walgreens study finds

September 21st, 2011

DEERFIELD, Ill. – By the numbers, the last flu season took its toll on workers, parents and children in terms of lost workdays, lost wages and missed school days, among other effects, according to a new report from Walgreen Co.

The drug store chain said Wednesday that the Walgreens Flu Impact Report, which surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults, found that last flu season resulted in 100 million lost workdays, almost $7 billion in lost wages and 32 million in missed school days.

In the first findings of the two-part study, which spotlights the ramifications that flu and ill-timed illness can have beyond people's health, Walgreens noted that for workers with the flu the question boils down to whether "to go or not to go" to work. Beside the 100 million workdays lost because of flu-related illness last season, over a third of those days would have been uncompensated with the costs borne by the employee, resulting in $6.8 billion in lost wages.

2010-11 Flu Season: The Toll

• 100 million lost workdays
• $7 billion in lost wages
• 32 million missed school days
• $251 to $1,000 spent overall on flu-related treatment by third of adults
Source: Walgreens Flu Impact Report, survey of 1,200 U.S. adults.

What's more, roughly two-thirds of the total missed workdays would have been employer-paid, a cost of more than $10 billion to companies' bottom lines due to lost productivity, the Walgreens report found. In addition, about 2 million business trips were canceled last season, based on survey projections.

And though some ill workers followed doctor recommendations to stay home, nearly 80% of respondents who got the flu last season said they still went to work at some point, and 60% expressed "worker’s remorse," saying they were at least fairly concerned they would expose others to illness.

For some working parents, the estimated 32 million flu-related missed school days can also translate to missed workdays and other challenges, according to the report. More than a third of respondents with children said they need to make alternative child care arrangements when their kids are sick, and 40% would need to take time off from work to care for a sick child.

Tallying the lost workdays, missed vacation time, child care expenses, doctor visits and other related costs, the report estimated that about a third of respondents spent between $251 and $1,000 on treating the flu last season.

"When it comes to the flu and your own personal calendar, there's no planning for the many things it could impact," Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy, health and wellness at Walgreens, said in a statement. "Immunization rates have climbed, and last season more than 40% of the U.S. population received flu shots. This report helps to reinforce the importance of getting a flu shot and how that small step toward protection can provide peace of mind when it comes to other important aspects of our lives."

Walgreens reported that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average 13% of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with active flu seasons seeing closer to 20%, or more than 62 million Americans.

Vaccination Update

 • 43% of U.S. population received flu vaccine last season
 • 41% of adults immunized for flu last season
 • 63% of adults plan to get flu vaccine this season
 Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

However, there has been progress on the immunization front. At a news conference Wednesday in Washington, the nonprofit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) said the latest data on U.S. immunization rates and the results of a national consumer survey indicate positive trends in flu protection.

Last flu season, an estimated 130.9 million people, or 43% of the U.S. population, received the flu vaccine, representing a steady increase over the last several years. While big strides in immunizing residents have been made in some states — such as Maryland and South Carolina, which increased vaccine coverage last year by 6% and 7% — others have not. Children ages 6 months to 17 years have seen the greatest rise in flu vaccination rates of all age groups, and signs of initial increases are also being seen in adults ages 18 to 49, likely fueled in part by last season's first-ever inclusion of all healthy adults in the vaccination recommendations, according to NFID.

Because of a long-standing recommendation, the age group most likely to get immunized for flu is people age 65 and older, who achieved a 67% vaccination rate last year versus 41% for all adults. The immunization rate for pregnant women was 49% during the 2010-11 flu season, in line with projection but well below public health goals of 80%, NFID noted.

"Vaccination is the single most effective way to protect yourself, your family and your community against influenza," CDC director Thomas Frieden stated at the conference. "For most people, the flu makes them sick for a few days, but for others — especially children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions — it can be life-threatening. I am getting vaccinated, and I hope everyone over 6 months of age will get vaccinated, too."

This year, the nation is well-equipped to protect more Americans from flu this year, according to Frieden, who cited increases in vaccine supply, new vaccine options and a more immunization venues for the 2011-12 season.

Over 85 million doses of influenza vaccine are already available in doctors' offices, public health clinics, pharmacies and retail stores, among other venues, and more doses are slated to be available throughout the season than ever before, NFID reported. The foundation also noted that all 50 states now allow pharmacists to administer flu vaccines.

And for the first time, there are four flu vaccine options: a nasal spray, the traditional intramuscular injected vaccine, a high-dose injection for people age 65 and older, and a new intradermal vaccine that features a smaller needle.

A consumer survey from NFID found that health care professionals are increasingly recommending flu vaccination to patients, and a rising number of patients are following that advice. The percentage of adults who report this year that a health professional recommended the flu vaccine is up to 68%, a 10% gain from 2010 and a 30% jump from 2008 levels.

Overall, the consumer poll revealed that 63% of adults plan to get a flu vaccine this year. Of the 36% who don't intend to be vaccinated this season, 69% said they could be motivated to change their mind. Leading motivating factors included the belief they might infect others who could become seriously ill (cited by 54% of respondents), a family member's or friend's flu experience (37%), a recommendation from a health care provider (34%), reassurance of vaccine safety (31%), and a recommendation from an employer (21%).