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.