Service Industries Hit Harder By Flu

F.J. Thomas

Muncie, IN ( – A new study published in Economics & Human Biology this week suggests there is a direct correlation between industry type, number of employees and the prevalence of the flu. The study was co-written by Miller College of Business economics professor Erik Nesson, Emory University economics professor Sara Markowitz and University of Alabama at Birmingham economics professor Joshua Robinson.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 9 and 35 million people are sick with the flu. As a result, there are between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 and 56,000 deaths. This, of course, translates to higher healthcare costs for employers. The overall healthcare costs associated with influenza, according to the CDC, is between $34.7 billion and nearly $90 billion per year.

The influenza virus is spread by droplet or close contact. The The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates study suggests that the modern work place with climate control, small spaces, slick surfaces, and close contact is conducive to the spread of the virus.

Neeson believes that the type of industry is a key element in the spread of influenza. “Our results imply that employment in service industries — particularly retail and health care — is a particularly strong mechanism for flu spread,” he said. “If our economy continues to shift to more service-oriented employment, the results presented here suggest there is greater potential for flu spread in the future.”

The study also suggests that employment numbers have an impact on influenza cases as well. For every 1 percent increase in employee numbers, there is a 16 percent increase in the number of doctor visits due to the flu.

Neeson believes that this information can be vital for planning purposes to employers and health departments. “This information could be used by the public health community to plan for the severity of an upcoming flu season,” he said. “For example, if the economy is on an upswing, the public health community should plan for an above normal increase in flu incidence.”

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