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Sneeze Louise: How Fort Worth businesses are fighting the flu

The coughing, runny nose and muscle aches that come from flu can take a toll on anyone who contracts the virus, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu takes a toll on businesses, too.

U.S. businesses lose about $16.3 billion in earnings each year due to flu, while employees miss almost 17 million workdays each flu season, according to the CDC. The CDC says most seasonal flu typically occurs between October and May and most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.

When it comes to the U.S. population in general, an average of 5 to 20 percent of people get the flu each year. They spend about $10.4 billion in direct medical expenses, such as hospitalizations and outpatient visits.

According to the CDC, vaccination is the best way to prevent flu. That’s why some Dallas-Fort Worth businesses, such as GM Financial and Texas Health Resources, as well as nonprofits such as Easter Seals, give free flu shots to their employees each year.

“Providing flu shots just makes sense because it provides an additional layer of protection for our employees, their families and potentially the community as a whole,” said Chris Burt, chief human resource officer at GM Financial.

GM Financial, an auto finance company owned by General Motors and based in Fort Worth, has been offering free flu shots for more than six years. This year, the company provided more than 700 flu shots. GM Financial also offers a medical plan that allows employees to get the flu shot at no cost from their doctor or pharmacy.

Burt said flu is hard enough for one individual, but when several employees get sick, business operations become difficult.

“Imagine that individual impact times 10 or 100,” he said. “You get a sense of how much of a drain the flu can be on any business.”

At Texas Health, flu shots are required for all employees except those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. Texas Health spends about $250,000 on flu shots for its 22,600 employees.

“Obviously you don’t want to come to a hospital and get the flu from somebody that’s caring for you,” said Michelle Kirby, senior vice president of people and culture at Texas Health. “It’s in the best interest of our patients to do it.”

Easter Seals, a health agency that serves children and adults with disabilities and special needs, gives free flu shots to its employees for the same reason – to prevent them from infecting clients, said Sarah McClellan-Brandt, vice president of brand development at Easter Seals. Unlike Texas Health, flu shots at Easter Seals are not required.

She said protecting against the flu also has a positive effect on employee productivity.

“It keeps the doctor visits down,” she said. “Our staff is here and productive, and it keeps us from getting sick.”

Other than getting a flu shot, employees can help prevent the flu by washing their hands, avoiding contact with sick people and practicing healthy habits like eating right and getting rest, according to Texas Health Infection Prevention Manager Cathy Grayson.

While protecting against the flu is an individual responsibility, McClellan-Brandt said, it’s just as important for businesses to take initiative as well.

“You’re around more people when you’re a work than when you’re at home,” she said. “Preventing spread is crucial. Businesses have to get involved.”

What Businesses Can Do to Fight the Flu

Tips from Texas Health Resources Infection Prevention Manager Cathy Grayson

1. Get your flu shot. Everyone over six months old should get a flu shot as soon as the current season’s vaccine becomes available.

2. Try to avoid close contact with sick people, and if you are sick limit your contact with others.

3. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water; use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available.

4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, which is one of the main ways germs spread.

5. Take care of your overall health and wellbeing. Get enough rest, eat healthfully and practice good hygiene.

Hosting a flu clinic at work

Businesses that would like to give out free flu shots to employees can do so through a local pharmacy.

For example, a business can contract with CVS Pharmacy to host an onsite flu clinic. The business would first need to contact its local CVS directly. CVS sets up flu clinics on a case-by-case basis, and the price to host a flu clinic varies depending on the pharmacy.

Walgreens offers on-site flu clinics as well, and interested businesses can contact a local Walgreens store to set up the event.

Taking on the flu

For more tips on preventing the flu, a list of flu shot locations and other resources, visit the Tarrant County Public Health Department’s website:

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