The How, Why and Cost of the Common Cold

Colds and flu impact the workplace, school, and the economy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Deadlines looming often prompt employees to go to work even if they have a cold infection. Now, there are usually options to stay home with your child and work remotely.

A recently released study review, including more than 80 published clinical trials finds the costs associated with the spread of flu and colds is in the billions of dollars and recommends preventative measures should be put in place.

"Stay home if you or your child has the flu or a cold."

Laurence Ligon, MD, a board-certified family practitioner in Austin, TX recommends, "Both children and adults on the mend from cold and flu infections should stay home until their symptoms subside."

The researchers encourage readers to realize that prevention can play a major role in minimizing the spread of cold and flu. They also want people to realize that both adults and children play a substantial role in the spread of influenza and colds. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children with colds have missed school days that amounts to $22 million a year in losses.

A research agency responsible for tracking flu and colds in northern America reports there is usually a dramatic increase in infections around the first two weeks that children return to school. The Queen's research results supports this and adds there is also a spike in pediatric asthma cases as a result of rhinovirus infection. A rhinovirus infection leads to colds also.

The researchers also report that very young children with cold-like symptoms play a major role in spreading the infection. Children in school are three times more likely to infect their family and friends than adult co-workers.

Adults can also play a major role in spreading the cold and flu. Queen's researchers study review indicates that workers with a cold or flu are more likely to go to work versus calling in sick. This leads to dramatic losses in productivity and spiraling costs. According to a survey conducted in the United States, 83 percent of those interviewed admit to going to work with flu-like symptoms.

Employers are much more negatively impacted by workers who continue to work during a cold than by those who stay home until well. The economic costs cited by the researchers is impressive: $25 billion loss in productivity in the US. When indirect costs, physician visits and drugs were taken into account, the cost is an even more impressive $40 billion.

Other data derived from this study review include:

  • More than $300 million annually is spent by Canadians for over-the-counter flu and cold remedies.
  • As many as 20 percent of Canadians completely ignore any symptoms.
  • Sore throats, flu or cold are experienced in 33 percent of the adult population in Canada every month. This is more common in men.
  • Self-treatment at the first sign of a cold or flu is utilized by 66 percent of adults in Canada.
  • Women are more likely to seek treatment and self-medicate than men.

Study results are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 6, 2011
Last Updated:
October 11, 2012