The CDC urges everyone who comes down with flu symptoms like coughs, fever and muscle aches to stay home from work. Ideally, they would stay at home and away from other people who might catch the infection for at least 24 hours after the fever has disappeared. (That means the temperature has returned to normal without aspirin, acetaminophen or other treatment.)
Can You Stay Home from Work When You Have the Flu?
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done for millions of Americans. We are experiencing one of the worst flu epidemics in recent years. Every day there are new reports of people who have died of influenza.
Everyone is urged to wash their hands and get a flu shot to protect themselves from infection. Certainly, these measures are sensible, although they are not as effective as we could wish. But one of most important measures to keep flu from spreading is to keep sick people at home. A new study suggests that just breathing in the presence of someone with influenza exposes you to the virus (Yan et al, PNAS, Jan. 2018).
Staying home is not an option for more than 40 million American workers. That’s because their employers don’t offer paid sick leave. If they get sick and have to stay home, they don’t get paid. For lots of people that could mean they can’t pay the rent or buy groceries, much less pay for prescription antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu. Consequently, they drag themselves into work even when they feel bad and are highly contagious.
The US Is Different:
Most other industrialized nations provide their workers with paid sick leave. Doing so in the US should reduce the spread of infections like influenza. With fewer workers getting sick, such a policy might actually increase productivity and save money over the long term. We haven’t heard much clamor for such a policy, though. Perhaps that is because the low-wage workers who would benefit most directly don’t seem to have much influence with most politicians.