Beating Influenza

If only we were allowed to do so

by Published: Jan 21, 2013

The Spanish influenza of 1918 was a great pandemic that infected one third of the world’s population and killed 20 percent of all who were infected. This strain, which is also the same strain of swine flu or H1N1, made a global impact, killing off an estimated six percent of the world’s total population between 1918 and 1920.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that this year’s flu season is at the half-way mark, and is worse than normal, with 82 percent reported influenza as “wide-spread” as of Dec. 2012. According to the CDC, approximately 20 percent of all people in the United States contract the flu each year, and over 200,000 people are hospitalized. Some regions in the nation have reported that up to 40 percent of their population is infected with influenza.

Getting a flu shot is important, but for many of us, a lack of health insurance, skepticism about its effectiveness (this year’s flu shot was predicted to be 60 to 70 percent effective) and for some adverse or allergic reactions keeps many from getting poked in the arm every year.

Influenza is highly contagious, and the CDC recommends anyone diagnosed with the flu remove themselves from society until their fever has abated for at least 24 hours. Doctors give the same advice, along with encouraging plenty of fluids, staying home, and rest. The most dangerous thing about having the flu when you’re a generally healthy 20-something college student isn’t being sick; it’s infecting others who are in the at-risk pool such as the elderly, the very young and the immune-compromised.

This is the crux of the problem when trying to stave off epidemic: workers and students can’t stay home. I’ve gone to work sick several times, once when I had border-line pneumonia and several times with a nasty cold, stomach flu, or other type of contagious illness. I’m never asked not to come to work sick, and we’re constantly reminded by professors and professionals alike that being sick is no excuse for not being present.

What does this mentality do? It spreads disease. When I go to work contagious, I infect others and not just a few co-workers. Every surface I touch leaves my microbes behind for others to pass on to their friends and co-workers and classmates. On a typical day, if I work and go to school, I have the probability to infect up to 500 people or more.

At the work place, many companies have no paid time off or have policies that reflect no-excused-absences. Low paying jobs such as retail and food service are typically worked by us, the college demographic. This means that when employees of these types of jobs are not sent home or allowed to stay home sick, they are infecting hundreds more.

I’ve been in several classes with required attendance. While I see the justification for requiring students to be present in class, (the bottle flu does not count as influenza) I also see the danger it presents to the students who have to sit next to the infected person running a 103 degree fever. It also poses a danger to the student running the 103 degree fever. At that temperature, any doctor can tell you some of your functions begin to literally fry. You may have shown up to be counted at attendance, but in no way are you present.

There is a very simple solution to this problem: Let the infected and sick people stay home where they belong. I don’t like being next to someone who looks like death, and I certainly don’t want to pass on any of my nasty germs. For people like me with health insurance, getting a doctor’s note isn’t that hard. I’m much happier handing my doctor the 20 dollar co-pay and probably coming out of it with some sort of prescription that will make me feel better too, but for many it’s not an option.

It’s hard to imagine, but using a little common sense can go a long way in an epidemic. Simply being able to spot someone who’s sick doesn’t take a genius; certainly any college professor could do it. The same logic goes for the workplace. When you hear someone who speaks like an old hag and coughs like a congested carburetor, you know something is wrong. If you’re in a position of power and you do nothing to stop the spread of influenza, you’re putting yourself and others at risk and possibly letting others die to save face and enforce a policy. By allowing the sick person to stay home and become non-contagious, you’re not only keeping the productivity of your class or workplace up, you’re saving lives by making sure you’re not the one responsible for sending the influenza strain home to someone who it would kill.

Being able to stay home sick is a right that shouldn’t have to be fought for. Certainly missing class for illness shouldn’t be abused, but as stated above, it’s not hard to spot a sick person, nor is it illogical to send them home to get better for the good of the person and those around them. Staving off the influenza epidemic takes the help of all through hand-washing, use of products such as Lysol and of course, common sense. So teachers, bosses, and even fellow students, when you see a sick person, send them home.