Universal paid sick leave reduces spread of flu, according to simulation

Allowing all employees access to paid sick days would reduce influenza infections in the workplace, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health modeling experts.

The researchers simulated an in Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County and found that universal access to paid sick days would reduce in the workplace by nearly 6 percent and estimated it to be more effective for small, compared to large, . The results are reported in the online version of the American Journal of Public Health and will be in the August print issue.

"The recommends that people with flu stay home for 24 hours after their fever breaks," said lead author Supriya Kumar, Ph.D., M.P.H., a post-doctoral associate in Pitt 's Department of Epidemiology. "However, not everyone is able to follow these guidelines. Many more workers in small workplaces than in large ones lack access to paid sick days and hence find it difficult to stay home when ill. Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers."

In addition to investigating the impact of universal access to paid sick days, Dr. Kumar and her colleagues looked at an alternative intervention they termed "flu days," in which all employees had access to one or two paid days to stay home from work and recover from the flu. The idea behind flu days is that they encourage employees to stay home longer than they currently do, thus reducing the potential for them to transmit illness to colleagues at work.

Giving employees one flu day resulted in more than a 25 percent decrease in infections due to workplace transmission. A two flu-day policy resulted in a nearly 40 percent decrease. The researchers found that days were more effective for larger workplaces, defined as having 500 or more employees.

Dr. Kumar and her colleagues used a modeling system developed at Pitt Public Health called "Framework for Reconstructing Epidemic Dynamics" (FRED), which is part of work housed in Pitt's Modeling of Infectious Disease Agents Study (MIDAS) National Center of Excellence. MIDAS was initiated by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to investigate novel computational and mathematical models of existing and emerging infectious diseases.

"Our mission is to protect the U.S. and the global community against communicable infectious disease threats," said senior author Donald S. Burke, M.D., Pitt Public Health dean and UPMC-Jonas Salk Chair of Global Health. "Our modeling work allows scientists both here and worldwide to investigate strategies to minimize epidemics. At the heart of this effort is free, open data sharing."

"These findings make a strong case for paid ," said Dr. Kumar. "Future research should examine the economic impacts of paid sick-day policies."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lack of sick leave creates tough choices for rural workers

Jul 11, 2011

Rural workers have less access to sick leave, forcing them to choose between caring for themselves or family members, and losing pay or perhaps even their jobs when faced with an illness, according to new research from the ...

No Excuses: Flu vaccination myths addressed

Oct 12, 2012

Flu season is here. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year five to 20 percent of Americans get the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to flu-related complications. Flu season ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

1 hour ago

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

1 hour ago

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing ...

User comments