Walgreens flu survey: Last year's season packed a wallop

DEERFIELD, Ill. — The 2012-2013 flu season was one of the most severe in the United States in more than a decade and, according to a new study, had two to three times the impact than a more typical flu season on the workplace, school, family and other segments of people’s everyday lives. A new report from Walgreens released Wednesday suggests U.S. adults missed 230 million work days last season, while children lost more than 90 million school days due to flu-related illness.  

By contrast, 100 million work days and 32 million school days were missed during the 2010-11 flu season, according to the Walgreens Flu Impact Report. 

“The flu season is always unpredictable, and the impact it can have on individuals and families at home and in the workplace can be significant,” stated Harry Leider, Walgreens chief medical officer. “Last year, with flu peaking early, a lot of people weren’t prepared and as a result lost vacations and missed out on holidays. This underscores the importance of getting a flu shot early, and our report shows more people are planning to do so, along with taking other preventive measures this year.”

Flu activity last season peaked in December, coinciding with the winter holidays and resulting in more than 11 million vacations interrupted or canceled as a result of the flu, a 300% increase over 2011, based on survey results. 

Nationally, the report suggests the flu-related cost to employers in 2012-13 was $30.4 billion, three times the $10.5 billion impact found in 2010-11, while employees who missed time at work due to flu-related illness lost more than $8.5 billion in wages. In addition, employees missed, on average, three days of work in 2012-13, compared with an average of one day during the 2010-11 season. As many as 6.2 million Americans missed a business trip in 2012-13 compared with 2 million in 2010-11. And three out of four respondents indicated they were personally impacted by the flu last year. 

Some 42% of respondents who had the flu last year missed some sort of festive activity over the holidays as a result. These include 17 million holiday events missed vs. 4.7 million in 2011, and 11 million vacation days missed vs. 3.6 million in 2011. 

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (60%) say they will take extra precautions to avoid the flu this year, including washing hands more frequently (87%), getting a flu shot earlier (51%), getting flu shots for family members (49%), limiting time in public places (43%) and trying working from home more often (11%).

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get a flu shot as soon as vaccine becomes available in August, almost one-third of the 2012-13 survey respondents waited until November or later to get their vaccine. Walgreens data shows 20% of the 7 million flu shots administered at Walgreens (including Healthcare Clinics and Duane Reade) last season were administered in January. And nearly four-in-five Americans believe that it takes 10 days or less, after receiving the flu shot, for the body to build up full immunity. In reality it takes up to 14 days. 

The Flu Impact Survey was conducted online within the United States by USamp on behalf of Walgreens from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4, 2013, among 1,200 nationally representative adults ages 18 years and older.

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