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What a Bad Flu Season Could Cost the U.S. Economy

This year's unusually potent flu is bad news for most employers but great for drugstores
Flu vaccine

Flu vaccine

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This year's flu season looks worse than usual. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned last week that the dominant influenza virus right now, H3N2, typically signals a severe flu season, resulting in more deaths and hospital trips than average. Even worse: About half of the H3N2 viruses detected so far are different strains from the ones included in this year's vaccine, which means flu shots will be less effective.

The resulting misery for millions of Americans is also lousy news for the economy. Flu incurs direct costs, such as the price of medical treatment, and indirect costs, such as lost productivity when workers stay home sick. There's also the cost of lost life: Influenza kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people in the U.S. each year, generally older people, young children, or people with medical conditions such as lung or heart disease that make them vulnerable to complications. The CDC recommends that everyone (except infants less than six months old) get vaccinated, especially those considered high-risk because of other health conditions.