Influenza and Workplace Productivity Loss in a Community Cohort of Working Adults

Anna Gajewski
Anna Gajewski
Emory University

Gajewski A, Sundaram M, Belongia E, Van Wormer J.
Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health

Research area: Epidemiology 

Background: Acute respiratory illnesses (ARIs) cost the U.S. tens of billions of dollars annually in direct medical care, but indirect ARI-associated costs are predicted to exceed this figure. Influenza plays a significant role in workplace productivity losses, due to wide-spread occurrence, severe symptom profile, and variable seasonal vaccine effectiveness. However, no studies to date have compared laboratory confirmed influenza cases to other ARIs in terms of short-term impact on workplace absenteeism (time away from work) and presenteeism (impairment while at work).

Methods: An analysis was conducted using data from employed participants in the 2012-13 Rapid Analysis of Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness (VE) study. Multiple linear regression was used to test the association between influenza status at the time of VE study enrollment and overall workplace productivity loss during the 1-2 week period following ARI symptom onset. Workplace productivity loss (0-100%) was measured using a modified Work Productivity and Activity Impairment questionnaire.

Results: Total productivity loss was 69% for participants with influenza and 61% for participants with other ARIs (p=0.004). After adjusting for sex, week of symptom onset, and smoking, influenza was significantly associated with an 8.5% increase in workplace productivity loss (p=0.002). Sensitivity analyses on absenteeism and presenteeism outcomes indicated that missed work days were the principal driver of workplace productivity loss in the influenza positive group.

Discussion: Influenza was associated with workplace productivity loss above that observed in individuals with non-influenza ARIs. This additional productivity loss in the influenza group was primarily attributable to hours absent from work. More research is needed to better understand the full economic implications and how much variability there is between influenza seasons. The findings suggest that productivity loss from ARIs, including influenza, is responsible for a significant portion of the overall economic burden of ARIs.