Q&A with CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan

What steps should CSX and other businesses take to prepare for flu season?

JerniganCDC recommends annual flu vaccination as the first and best way to prevent flu. Any actions that businesses can take to encourage people to get vaccinated are welcome.

First, employers and supervisors can lead by example, by getting vaccinated themselves and encouraging their staff to do the same. Other practical ways to promote vaccination are to educate employees about flu vaccine through in-house communications tools like newsletters, emails or paycheck inserts. CDC formative research has shown that many people don’t understand the serious consequences that flu can have—they don’t perceive influenza as being serious, or they don’t want to get vaccinated because they have misperceptions about the vaccine itself. Sometimes just providing information can lower barriers to vaccination. Another very effective way to increase vaccination among employees is to offer access to vaccination on-site—either free or at cost—to employees. Research has shown that convenience and ease of access can increase the percentage of people who get the vaccine. These kinds of actions can encourage more employees to get vaccinated. CDC’s flu website has web tools, posters and other free resources to help support all of these activities.

Also, businesses should remind employees to take everyday preventive steps like staying home and away from others when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands to reduce the spread of germs. Businesses can help employees interrupt the spread of flu through leave policies that encourage these behaviors.

When should employees be vaccinated?

People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond with antibodies that protect against flu virus infection. If businesses are planning flu vaccination clinics on-site for their employees, October is usually a good time to have these. However, CDC continues to recommend that people get vaccinated as long as flu activity is ongoing. 

Many employees believe the flu vaccine can give them the flu. Is this a misconception or a fact?

This is a common flu vaccine misconception. The flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.

After getting a flu shot, some people may have a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness, which are sometimes side effects of the vaccine. The nasal spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat or cough. All of these side effects are mild and short-lived, and are different from having the flu, which can be far more serious.

How does flu preparedness impact employee productivity?

Getting a flu vaccine is a high-value, relatively low-cost intervention with multiple benefits: it reduces both absenteeism and health care expenditures. Ultimately, a vaccinated workforce may mean healthier, more productive employees.

Many CSX employees work outside in all weather conditions or travel frequently for business. Are there special actions vulnerable employees should consider for flu preparedness?

Yes, while CDC recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, it’s especially important for certain people at high risk of serious flu complications to protect themselves, including people with certain medical conditions, like heart or lung disease or diabetes for example. Studies have shown that flu vaccination is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who have had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease.

As the season progresses, even if they’ve gotten vaccinated, people at high risk of flu complications should be on the alert for flu symptoms and should speak with a doctor or other health care professional promptly if they get them. Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness and are recommended for people with high-risk conditions who get the flu. Treatment with antiviral drugs can shorten your illness and make it milder and it can also prevent serious flu complications from developing. In people with high-risk factors, antiviral treatment can potentially keep people out of the hospital.

Employees who travel should be aware that seasonal flu viruses circulate globally and the Southern Hemisphere flu season occurs during the U.S. summer months. So before traveling, employees should make sure they’ve received a seasonal flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines. While traveling they should try their best to stay away from sick people and take other everyday preventive actions.