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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Flu Risk Higher for Workers in Certain Industries

Reasons for Increased Workplace Risk Not Entirely Clear
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 22, 2012 -- Although having a job offers some protection against the flu, a new report from the CDC shows that workers in some industries appear more flu-prone than workers in other industries.

“[T]his information is needed for recognizing and responding to increased risks for infection among key occupational groups (e.g., health care workers, school teachers, retail and food service workers, and others with substantial exposure to the general public),” the authors write.

In the wake of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, researchers with the CDC’s Emerging Infections Program (EIP) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) collected data from 3,365 adults whose flu had sent them to the hospital. Although hospitalizations for flu are not the norm, the report states, the authors’ aim was to provide “some clues about specific groups of workers that might be most commonly affected by severe influenza.”

Workers at Risk

Health care workers top the list. They account for more than 16% of all hospitalizations. Retail workers, at slightly above 12%, are not far behind. Accommodation and food service workers and educators each make up between 9% and 10% of the total number of those hospitalized.

Rather than simply look at the total number of hospitalized employees in each industry, the researchers also wanted to know which industries had the highest proportion of employees whose flu was severe enough to require a hospital stay.

They found that those in the transportation and warehousing industries -- airline workers, postal employees, and bus drivers, for example -- were more than 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital for flu than the average worker.

Nearly as likely were travel agents, janitors, secretaries, and other employees in the administrative and support services and waste management and remediation services. Health care workers followed close behind.

Educators, surprisingly, were no more likely to be hospitalized than the average worker.

Possible Underlying Causes

The authors say that it is hard to determine why some industries are more at risk than others, though they do offer some potential explanations.

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