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MUNCIE, Ind.–Bleach wipes and hand sanitizer are in order where people work. Because more people are working, more people have the flu, says a new paper from Ball State University’s economics department. 

“A lot of the characteristics of the workplace are conducive to the spread of the flu. So, in office places there are a lot of surfaces that a lot of people touch: the washrooms, the copier, door handles,” said Erik Nessen, associate professor of Economics.

“The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates” found that a one percentage point increase in the employment rate correlates with increases in the number of influenza-related doctor visits by about 16 percent. These effects are felt in retail and health care jobs, industries with the highest levels of interpersonal contact.

Nessen said he and his colleagues collected data on the flu from the CDC, and data on employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and put them together to reach their conclusion.

“If employment goes up in the state in one month, then we expect that that state will see higher levels of flu prevalence in future months.”

“Employers should consider differences in the lost productivity from many employees becoming infected with influenza versus the lost productivity from a few infected individuals taking sick leave,” said Nessen. “Workers concerned about missing pay or losing their jobs as the result of staying home from work due to illness will be less likely to heed early signs of influenza infection and stay home. 

He said if you’re the boss and you don’t want a large portion of the company down with the flu, consider letting the people who are sick off without penalties.

“Since a person may be infectious while experiencing mild symptoms, this greatly increases the probability that the virus will spread to other workers in the firm. This implies that firms should consider more generous sick day policies, particularly during the flu season.”

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