Outbreak risk from rise of ‘workers-flu’

November 05, 2012

More than one in three people fear new strains of flu and a possible outbreak of the virus, new research reveals. 

A study by The Co-operative Pharmacy* has highlighted that workers would contribute to the spread of any flu outbreak by going to work ill and still can’t recognise all of its symptoms.  Men would be the worst culprits for spreading  what they think is the virus as more than half said they would still to go to work with flu (53 per cent), compared to two in five women (42 per cent). 

Also contributing to the spread of the illness, more than two in five men (46 per cent) would continue to socialise if they had flu symptoms and almost half (48 per cent) would still go to the gym. This compares to one in three women (33 per cent) who would go out and meet friends despite suffering. 

The research highlighted that than one in four workers (26 per cent) are still unsure about the differences between colds and flu also believe that it is scare mongering when they hear that flu can kill – yet are worried about an impending outbreak.  More than half of those questioned (55 per cent) believe that everyone should be offered the flu vaccination free to prevent an outbreak of the flu. 

According to the survey, one in three people (32 per cent) feel pressurised to go to work if they have flu and young workers (those aged 18-24 years) are most likely to feel compelled to go in to work despite having flu.

Of those who said they feel under pressure to go to work, more than half (54 per cent) said it was because they believe managers and colleagues think they have a cold and are shirking work, as opposed to actually having the virus.

Two in five (40 per cent) feel pressurised because they don’t want a sick day on their record and one in five (20 per cent) were scared that they would lose their job if they took time off.

According to the NHS, on average, about 600 people a year die from a complication of seasonal flu in the UK. This rises to around 13,000 during an epidemic when a sudden and severe outbreak of the disease occurs.**

Figures from the Health Protection Agency show that during the 2000/01 flu season, the number of excess deaths recorded was 910. This jumped to 6,947 in 2001/02.  In 2007/08 this figure was 707 rising to 9,798 for the 2008/09 season and last year (2011/12) the number of excess deaths was 661.***

The poll also found that more than three quarters of those questioned (78.5 per cent) will not visit the doctor if they have flu, as they believe they won’t be given any treatment.  For those who do visit their GP, half wait between three and five days to go.  Almost one in six people say this is because they don’t want to bother the doctor and almost one in eight (12 per cent) are unable to get an appointment when they want one. 

Fiona Caplan-Dean, Clinical Services Manager at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Although flu is a very common illness, it is highly infectious and in some vulnerable groups of people can develop into much more serious illnesses that can cause complications and even lead to death.  Having a flu vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from flu but it can also help to protect your family, friends and work colleagues too.

“The research results highlight the confusion around flu and colds. Although some of the symptoms of flu are similar to colds, if you have flu you will feel much worse and if you get a proper case of it you are unlikely to be able to out of bed. It can make you feel ill for a number of weeks, so if you suspect you have flu it is wise to rest and give yourself enough time to recuperate. This will also help to reduce the risk of passing on the virus.”

Professor John Oxford, Virologist at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The study by The Co-operative Pharmacy rings alarm bells as we head into winter. Employees are feeling confused about what to do when experiencing flu-like symptoms and under pressure to go to work like never before. This could lead to faster spread of the flu virus in warm, enclosed environments full of people such as a typical office – which will ultimately cost business more and of course impact on the nation’s health, which is why the flu vaccine is so important.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy offers a flu vaccination service for adults and now children who are aged 12 years old and above from almost 500 branches across the UK.**** The vaccination costs £11 and stocks  have been ordered from outside those allocated to the NHS. They include the H1N1 strain in line with World Health Organisation recommendations.
For more information about how to help prevent colds and flu visit: www.pharmacy.co.uk

Additional Information: 

*One poll questioned 2,000 working adults of all age ranges across the UK in September 2012.

** http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Flu/Pages/Introduction.aspx

*** Health Protection Agency Surveillance of influenza and other respiratory pathogens in the UK, October 2011-April 2012. Page 36, Table 1. http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317134705939

Number and proportion of excess death registrations in England and Wales
in influenza seasons from 2000/01 to 2011/12

Season Excess above threshold (95% CI)
2000/01 910
2001/02 6947
2002/03 6468
2003/04 4653
2004/05 1821
2005/06 Not detected
2006/07 Not detected
2007/08 707
2008/09 9798
2009/10 2819
2010/11 3422
2011/12 661

****Before the vaccination can be administered a pharmacist will conduct a review with the customer.  A consent form must be signed by the parent/guardian of those who are under 16 years old.  The parent/guardian/carer will need to be present when the vaccination is given.

Is it a cold or flu?
A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu which is a virus.  While cold symptoms can make an individual feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make them feel quite ill for a few days to weeks.

Symptoms of a cold include:

  • runny nose, beginning with clear mucus that develops into thicker, darker or green mucus as the cold progresses
  • blocked nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • cough

People with a cold may also suffer with a mild fever, earache, tiredness and headache. Symptoms develop over one or two days and gradually get better after a few days. The first three days of a person having a cold are contagious.

Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms are usually more severe including:

  • sudden fever of 38-40°C (100-104°F)
  • muscle aches and pains
  • head ache
  • sweating
  • feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
  • possible sore throat

Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although they may feel tired for longer.

Contact Information:

Alex Wilson
Senior Public Relations Officer – Pharmacy
The Co-operative Group
07540 641368

Craig Noonan
PR Manager – Specialist Retail
The Co-operative Group
Tel: 07702 505439