Workplaces with Higher Flu Risk

Influenza risk among workers outside health care fields described

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Most of the press around the start of flu season focuses on high-risk groups, such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and those working in healthcare. But others are at risk too.

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found out which other industries had higher rates of the flu.

The study also reported on flu vaccination rates in various US industries.

The results offer more information about which workers may be at highest risk for the flu and may want to consider getting a flu shot.

Those working in real estate, leasing, food preparation and hospitality had the highest risk of getting the flu. Those in public administration and education had the highest vaccination rates after healthcare workers.

"Take precautions against the flu."

This study, led by Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the CDC, looked at rates of flu infection and vaccination among US workers.

Healthcare workers are already a group at higher risk for flu infection and are recommended to receive the vaccination each year.

This study, however, looked at employees in other industries based on the 2009 National H1N1 Flu Survey, conducted from October 2009 through June 2010.

The survey involved interviews with 28,710 employed US adults, almost a quarter of whom (24 percent) received the flu vaccine in 2009.

In this group, 5.5 percent reported influenza-like illness symptoms within the previous month of their interview.

These surveys ask specifically about "influenza-like illness" because many individuals with the flu do not get lab-confirmed tests.

A flu-like illness was "defined as having been sick with fever and cough or sore throat in the past month."

The industry with the highest percentage of workers with flu-like illness was real estate and rental/leasing, among whom 10.5 percent had flu-like illnesses.

This group was followed closely by those in accommodation and food services, among whom 10.2 percent had flu-like illnesses.

In the more specific occupation group of "food preparation and serving-related" jobs, 11 percent of workers reported having a flu-like illness in the month before their interview.

Approximately 8.3 percent of those in the occupation group of "community and social services" reported flu-like illnesses in the survey.

The researchers noted that vaccination coverage (which was low) and flu-like illness rates were similar among employed adults and those not in the labor force, such as homemakers, students, retirees and disabled persons.

Yet unemployed adults who were actively looking for work had lower vaccination rates and higher rates of flu-like illness than the employed and non-labor-force groups.

"These results suggest that adults employed in certain industries and occupations might have increased risk for influenza infection, and that the majority of these workers did not receive seasonal or pH1N1 influenza vaccine," the researchers wrote. "Unemployed adults might also be considered a high risk group for influenza."

Industries with 5 to 6 percent of their employees experiencing flu-like illness included the following in descending order:

  • Education (6.3 percent)
  • Information (6.1 percent)
  • Manufacturing (5.6 percent)
  • Administration and support and waste management and remediation services (5.5 percent)
  • Health care and social assistance (5.4 percent)
  • Retail trade (5.1 percent)
  • Public administration (5.1 percent)
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation (5.1 percent)
  • Other services besides public administration (5 percent)

The group with the highest level of flu vaccination was health care and social assistance; 58.5 percent reported receiving the flu vaccine.

Among those in public administration, 48 percent were vaccinated, and 43.6 percent of those in educational services were vaccinated. All other groups were below 40 percent.

"None of these non–health-care worker groups achieved high rates of seasonal or pH1N1 influenza vaccination coverage," the researchers wrote. "On the other hand, the relatively high rates of vaccination coverage among health care personnel might have contributed to their relatively low rates of influenza-like illness."

The researchers also suggested that employers evaluate flu risk in their workplace and implement prevention measures such as vaccination program, education on hygiene and cough etiquette and encouraging sick workers to stay home.

The study was published March 13 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It was funded by the CDC, and the authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 13, 2014
Last Updated:
March 17, 2014