According to the Medscape article Flu Season Gets an Early Start, CDC says,  the US could be in for a bad year.  At a Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) telebriefing yesterday, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH said “we’re seeing the earliest start to the flu season since 2003-2004, excluding the [H1N1] pandemic”.

By contrast, the UK’s Department of Health in its Weekly Flu Information 29th November 2012,   states that the UK has seen a slow start. For week 47 (ending 25 November, 2012), the weekly primary care consultation rate for flu-like illness in England was 7.9 per 100,000.  However, at a client of mine yesterday – despite a 40% uptake of flu vaccination – there is a worrying increase in absence for flu like symptoms.  Nothing particularly serious at present but managers were certainly noticing a few more absentees than normal.

A couple of interesting points have come out of the US information. Firstly, the claimed vaccination rate of nurses, doctors and pharmacists in the US is 80 – 90% and the article claims that 37% of the US population over 6 months old have been vaccinated.  Most NHS trusts in the UK would be ecstatic to get half that and according to my OH colleagues on the academic discussion site Jiscmail, I’m doing pretty well achieving 40% in a private sector non healthcare business.  Secondly, despite the gloomy US figures, the vaccine this year is regarded as a good match at approximately 90% of the strains that are in circulation.   So even if America does get sick, the medical and nursing staff will be well placed to look after it.

I can’t help visualising that old cliché of disaster films where a business traveller gets on a London bound plane feeling unwell in New York and two weeks later the Brits are dropping like flies.   The business risk assessment (or gamble to some) of corporate flu jabs has always been a difficult one to justify year on year when the worst that happened last year was a few sniffs and sore throats. This winter though, those that took that gamble might be cashing a lot of good attendance chips by January.