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Businesses turn attention to oncoming influenza season

Here it comes — that achy, tired, feverish feeling. Yes, it sounds like the flu, but with plenty of vaccine to go around this year, there’s no excuse not to practice a little prevention.

Tiny tots to seniors can now take advantage of a good shot in the arm, with the flu vaccine becoming available this past week for all who want to decrease their likelihood of getting the dreaded virus.

And, it’s not just individuals who are taking extra precautions to stay well through the winter. Companies also see the benefit in encouraging their employees to be wise and immunize.

Steve Szabo, fluid power division human resources manager for Eaton Aerospace, said he was among 140 of the industry’s workers and spouses who decided to take the flu shot, one of two types of vaccine which also includes a nasal spray.

“Absence of sick employees can have a serious negative impact on production,” Szabo said. “Fortunately we have, on average, very good attendance at our company.”

Eaton’s occupational medical provider, Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, provided the inoculations, with Szabo signing a waiver which released the hospital from any liability. Employees paid for their own shots which, according to Szabo, released Eaton from any responsibility from claims that the vaccine may not be safe.

Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. The shot can have side effects such as soreness, a low- grade fever and aches which usually last no more than two days.

The actual flu virus is what concerns Billy Sims, human resources vice president for Southern Farm Bureau Life, who said that more than productivity can be affected when employees are sick.

“One person’s loss of productivity can put an extra burden on other employees who not only have to do their own job, but the absent employee’s job duties as well. Over a period of time this affects morale in a negative way,” said Sims, who has worked for the past several years with the company’s medical director to see that Southern Farm Bureau Life’s employees and their families have been vaccinated.

This year, Sims explained, the company’s flu vaccine provider failed to deliver the order, and when this was discovered the other vendors were already sold out.

In retrospect, Sims said, “Doing the vaccinations onsite has made it easier to follow up with a larger number of employees and family members.”

Both Sims and Szabo help to incorporate wellness programs into the overall company environment to promote healthier lifestyles among workers. Wellness perks at Southern Farm Bureau Life include corporate discounts at local health clubs and healthier choices in the cafeteria planned food program.

Among Eaton’s provisions are a wellness information center in the cafeteria, health-related articles in the daily newsletter and a health fair with extensive screenings every other year.

Along with shots and wellness programs, employees can practice good health habits to prevent outbreaks of the flu. More likely than not, most people catch the flu through hand contact with their eyes and mouth. Regular handwashing can prevent the spread of flu and other diseases. Likewise, those infected with the flu should remember to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing.

Other preventive measures, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), include avoiding close contact and staying home when sick.

The CDC estimates that an average of 36,000 people die each year from the flu, with most of these aged 65 or older. Older adults, children from six months to two years of age, pregnant women, and chronically ill individuals are most at risk.

And, employees shouldn’t take lightly the flu shot signs they’re seeing posted around their companies as reminders that getting immunized protects not only themselves, but other employees and family members, as well.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet S. Vickers at mbj@msbusiness.com.

Flu facts from the State Department of Health

• Influenza is a disease of the lungs only. Its main symptoms are fever, headache, extreme tiredness, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches, but usually not stomach nausea. “Stomach flu” is not related to influenza, and is not affected by the flu vaccine.

• Not every runny nose is the flu. The flu has many symptoms that the common cold does. It’s not likely that you have the flu unless the symptoms are more severe than the usual cold or runny nose.

• This year’s vaccine offers the best protection. The current year’s vaccine is carefully matched to the currently active form of the influenza virus. The vaccine is effective for only a few months, so vaccinations from past years will not help protect you from illness this flu season.

• You can be vaccinated against pneumococcal virus at the same time you get your flu vaccination. This extra shot can protect you for five years or more from serious respiratory diseases caused by varieties of pneumococcal virus. Check with your doctor or local health department to see if this vaccination is right for you.

— Source: www.msdh.state.ms.us

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