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Health experts: Businesses will play role in fight against flu

Anne Knowles

The flu may be on the rise in Washoe County, but health experts say businesses can take precautions to keep their employees healthy.

The Washoe County reported 45 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases for the week ending Jan. 12, up from 24 the week earlier. That’s the most so far in the current flu season. The number of patients with influenza-like illness, as reported to the county health department by healthcare providers, was down in the same week, to 70 patients from about 115 the week before.

The area is faring better than much of the rest of the country. The 70 illnesses reported by five providers was 2.3 percent of patients, below the regional baseline of 3.9 percent. Nevada falls into what the Centers for Disease Control says the region including Nevada, Arizona, California, Guam and Hawaii was the only region recording normal levels of flu instances last week.

If history is any indication, flu levels will peak and remain high for six to 10 more weeks. Even though other parts of the country are reporting signs of decline, incidences in the West will stick around for a while since the flu started earlier on the East Coast and traveled west.

In the meantime, local businesses can avoid some of the $10.4 billion in direct medical costs the CDC estimates the flu will rack up and encourage employees to take a few precautions.

Dr. Elizabeth Kraft, medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Nevada, says that getting a flu shot is still important since the flu will last at least into February.

There have been spot shortages of the vaccine, but a quick visit to flu.gov and its “flu vaccine finder” search feature shows about 30 locations to get a shot in and around Reno.

Some businesses are taking it a step further.

NV Energy, for example, brought in health workers from St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center to provide shots on-site during October. The cost of the shots, whether provided at work or off-site, are covered by the company’s health plan, says Faye Andersen, an NV Energy spokeswoman.

Andersen said the company also has a tongue-in-cheek video encouraging people to sneeze into their sleeves to avoid possibly spreading the flu and has free-standing stations equipped with hand sanitizers throughout its buildings.

Andersen couldn’t say if the flu has had much of an impact on the company because employees record all leave, whether it’s sick leave or vacation, as personal time.

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Kraft also encourages businesses to reassure employees that it’s more important to stay home when sick then show up for work.

“Workers who are worried about losing their jobs in a tough economy are more likely to come to work even when still ill,” says Kraft. “Make sure that employees know that they need to stay away from other people until they’re at least 24 hours without a fever.”


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