5 things to know about this year’s flu

The nation is having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad flu season.

Flu is widespread in 46 states, according to reports to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease.

In addition, states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Hospitalization rates are highest among people older than 50 and children younger than 5.

In California, which is among the hardest-hit states, the virus struck surprisingly early this season. The state’s warmer temperatures typically mean people are less confined indoors during the winter months. As a result, flu season usually strikes later than in other regions.

Health experts aren’t sure why this season is different.

“We’re seeing the worst of it right now,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician who is leading Kaiser Permanente-Northern California’s anti-flu effort. “We’re really in historic territory, and I just don’t know when it’s going to stop.” (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Here are five things you should know about this flu season:

1. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.

The H3N2 influenza A subtype that appears to be most prevalent this year is particularly nasty, with more severe symptoms including fever and body aches. Australia, which U.S. public health officials follow closely in their flu forecasting — in part because their winter is our summer — reported a record-high number of confirmed flu cases in 2017. Another influenza B virus subtype also is circulating, “and that’s no fun, either,” Bergen said.

Flu season in the U.S. typically starts in October and ends in May, peaking between December and February.

2. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years.

U.S. flu experts say they won’t fully know how effective this season’s vaccine is until the it’s over. But Australia’s experience suggests effectiveness was only about 10 percent. In the U.S., it is 40 to 60 percent effective in an average season. Vaccines are less protective if strains are different than predicted and unexpected mutations occur.

3. You should get the flu shot anyway.

Even if it is not a good match to the virus now circulating, the vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you come down with the flu.

Children are considered highly vulnerable to the disease. Studies show that for children a shot can significantly reduce the risk of dying.

High-dose vaccines are recommended for older people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu, according to the CDC.

“Some protection is better than no protection,” Bergen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing to have a vaccine that’s just not as effective as we’d like it to be.

Shots may still be available from your doctor or local health clinic, as well as at some chain drugstores. Check the Vaccine Finder website for a location near you.

4. Basic precautions may spare you and your family from days in bed.

As much as possible, avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

Masks aren’t particularly effective in keeping you from catching the flu, although they may help keep sick people who wear them from spreading their germs further.

If you are sick, cover your cough and stay home from work if you can, Bergen said. Remaining hydrated, eating nutritious foods and exercising can also help strengthen your immune system.

Because elderly people are so vulnerable to the flu, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities may limit visitors and resident activities, depending on the level of illness.

 

5. Don’t mistake flu symptoms for those of a common cold.

The hallmarks of flu are fever and body aches that accompany cough and congestion, Bergen said.

If you feel as if you’re having trouble breathing, or if your fever can’t be controlled with medication like Tylenol, check with your doctor. It’s even more important for patients to see a doctor if they have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, or if they are young or elderly.

Kaiser Permanente doctors now are being advised to prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu — given as a pill or, for kids, an oral suspension — even without a lab test for influenza, Bergen said. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, however, Tamiflu supplies are running low.

And Bergen cautioned that these medications are only partly effective, reducing the time of illness by just a day or two.

Read the original article.

Source:
Kaiser Health News (22 January 2018). "5 things to know about this year’s flu" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/01/5-things-know-years-flu/

How employers can better support the caregivers in their workforces

How can you provide the best support for the caregivers in your workforce? From Employee Benefit News, this article discusses the responsibilities caregiving employees juggle, and why it's so important for employers to take those responsibilities into consideration when creating a healthy and stable work environment.


As more employees self-identify as caregivers for family members and friends, employers are starting to address the needs of workers who struggle to balance work while caring for others.

The numbers are staggering. One in six U.S. employees identify as a caregiver for a family member or friend, according to research by Family Caregiver Alliance. An AARP study found that U.S. businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism among full-time working caregivers, and that figure grows an additional $3 billion when part-time workers with caregiving duties are accounted for.

“Of today’s 40 million family caregivers, 24 million are juggling caregiving responsibilities and employment. By recognizing and supporting their needs, employers can improve productivity and foster a stable and healthy workforce,” says Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP.

With that in mind, Northeast Business Group on Health and AARP have released a resource guide for employers who wish to ease the burden of the caregivers among their workforce. According to Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers, the authors recommend that employers create a corporate culture of awareness, draft workplace policies, benefits and programs, obtain the support of top executives and implement new services throughout the work force.

The guide also suggests employers offer paid sick days that can also be used for the care of a relative; in-house stress-reduction programs such as yoga, meditation; massage discounts and online or in-person coaching to assist in developing a care plan. Employers are also urged to offer digital tools to help employees manage their caregiving duties and provide legal and financial counseling for employees.

Employees who are preoccupied with the care and wellbeing of a parent, sibling or child have an impact on the workplace in both their quality of work and in potential medical claims.

“Trying to balance those responsibilities however large or small does have ramifications for the folks who are doing the caregiving,” says Candace Sherman, interim CEO of NEBGH. She says caregivers often feel lonely and isolated due to the demands placed on them and they often experience depression and anxiety when dealing with their caregiving roles.

“They're often spending their outside-of-work time providing care as opposed to socializing and oftentimes they neglect their own mental and physical well-being in favor of making sure that whomever they're caring for has what they need,” says Sherman. “Ultimately, that shows up in healthcare claims down the road.”

Fighting the stigma

By creating a culture of awareness around caregiver needs and responsibilities, employers may shake the resistance employees feel when identifying as caregivers.

“We found that there's a bit of a stigma in terms of folks raising their hand and saying ‘I'm a caregiver and I'm having some trouble,’” says Sherman. She adds that this impulse is similar to employees’ overall reluctance to admitting that they have a mental health issue.

“Employee caregivers might worry that if their colleagues know they're caring for someone, their manager will think ‘I've got this great new assignment but this person's overburdened right now,’” she says. “Or maybe they're up for a promotion and they feel they won't be considered because people know that they have other responsibilities outside of work.”

The caregiving guide recommends employers “ensure that managers at all levels are aware of the company’s policies regarding flex-time, leave policies and other benefits that caregiving employees can access, and should encourage them to openly support employees using these benefits.”

The guide also recommends that providing paid leave to these employees “might be the single most important consideration for employers when thinking about creating a caregiving-friendly workplace.”

Benefit administrators appear to be getting the message. Respondents of a July 2017 survey of benefits executives and managers from roughly 130 companies said that if they could roll out “two new policies, programs or benefits tomorrow to support caregivers, they would expand leave policies and coaching, wellness or support services designed to support caregiver well-being.”

The burden is not just on employers to act to improve the workplace for caregivers, they have to come to terms with their duties and the impact it has on their personal and work lives, says Sherman. Caregivers are slow to identify themselves as such because of cultural and societal roles that engrain our sense of family responsibilities.

“We have all been there or we’re close to people who have been there in terms of caring for someone who's ill or elderly. We are ingrained to view it as we're caring people and this is just something that we do, so people don't self-identify as caregivers,” Sherman says.

She adds, “But if you're a caregiver and you're balancing those responsibilities, they can range from checking in with a family member a couple of times a week or making a run for groceries or medications to much more intensive duties that occupy several hours a day.”

 

You can read the original article here.

 

Source:

Albinus P. (5 November 2017). "How employers can better support the caregivers in their workforces" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-to-meet-the-needs-of-caregiver-employees?feed=00000152-18a5-d58e-ad5a-99fd665c0000