With reports afoot of an early flu season this year, business journalists might want to take a look at the economic ripple effects of the annual influenza outbreak, which affects more than just the medical and health care industries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which weekly updates an online map of flu prevalence, more than half of states show some sporadic cases already. You might want to bookmark the CDC’s Flu Activity and Surveillance page, which includes the weekly FluView report. FluView is a treasure trove of geographical data on mortality, outpatient cases of flu, pediatric cases, hospitalizations and other breakdown of flu activity; it’s interesting to note that prevalence varies significantly by region, with some reporting less than half a percent incidence compared to more than 4 percent in other areas. This is good context for any report you might do about the effect of flu season on employers and various industries. The FluView report also has links to state agencies that contribute reporting. (Note, the narrative analyses and data offered all are a bit inscrutable as regards number of cases per year; flu incidence is measured on the rate of deaths, doctor visits, etc. per X number of people.)
The CDC also offers sections sections on planning and preparedness for business and consumers which may offer some story idea nuggets; most seem to involve pushing the flu vaccine — and looking at workplace policies requiring the vaccine, particularly in health care settings, is one story for business journalists. It’s not a new one but it’s an emotional topic that likely will resonate with readers. Advocacy groups like Vaccine Liberation offer resource lists that may lead you to potential sources on the “anti” side of the issue; it should be simple to find large employers such as hospital systems that do require a vaccination. Here’s a Congressional Research Service paper on the topic, as well.
Another workplace-related approach is the economics of employer-sponsored vaccination clinics. Do workplaces save on absenteeism and insurance costs when they offer free or low-cost immunization services to their staffs? This publication by the National Center for Biotechnology Information offers one view of the economics of employer-sponsored immunization; the narrative discussion might provide fodder for questions to ask of local human resources officers.
Most preparedness sites I found include a “don’t work when you’re sick” or “don’t allow sick employees to come to work” tip; how does this work in predominantly hourly-wage workplaces like retail, restaurant, food-service and even the health care settings, where employees may feel compelled to come in ill or risk losing wages, sick time, scheduling preference, etc.? Same with white- and pink-collar workers; here’s a link to a 2011 survey in which 70 percent of office workers admit to coming in sick.
Beyond those topics, you might want to look at issues specific to various industries. For example, the transportation industry with its patrons and workers packed into small spaces faces special problems in flu season; so too the conference and hospitality industry and even the delivery and mailing industry has concerns. Check in with trade associations on your beats; you might find some unexpected consequences of flu season on even the most unlikely sectors.
Another resource is Flu.gov, a flu-related site operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.