Can paid sick leave reduce the spread of flu?
This year’s flu season started earlier and was more intense than usual, but new research suggests businesses should give their employees a break. According to a new study, granting employees paid sick days would help reduce the spread of flu. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh came to the conclusion using a simulated flu outbreak.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with flu stay home for 24 hours after their fever breaks,” said lead author Supriya Kumar, Ph.D., M.P.H., in a statement. “However, not everyone is able to follow these guidelines. Many more workers in small workplaces than in large ones lack access to paid sick days and hence find it difficult to stay home when ill.”
The study calculated how many people each resident of a county in Pennsylvania came in contact with every day. Then, a simulated flu was introduced into the sample. The more time a person took off from work, the fewer people he or she interacted with. This lead to a decreased spread of the flu.
“Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers,” said Dr. Kumar.
When the researchers used government mandated sick leave as a standard, 72 percent of the population took 1.7 days off from work. In this scenario, the flu decreased by 6 percent. However, when given a paid sick day, 72 percent of the employees took 2.7 days off compared to 52 percent of employees without paid sick leave who took only one day off. Under these circumstances, the prevalence of the flu fell by nearly 25 percent.
“Our mission is to protect the U.S. and the global community against communicable infectious disease threats,” said senior author Dr. Donald S. Burke, in a statement. “Our modeling work allows scientists both here and worldwide to investigate strategies to minimize epidemics.”
In 2012 and 2013, 42 out of every 100,000 people were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. Seniors are at especially high risk, with those 65 years and older accounting for 50 percent of all hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
“These findings make a strong case for paid sick days,” said Dr. Kumar. “Future research should examine the economic impacts of paid sick-day policies.”
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