The Hidden Costs of Getting the Flu

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Getting sick doesn't just drain your energy, but it can also affect your family's financials. Here are a few things that you should know about the flu and finances.

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Flu season is upon us and you could be wondering whether or not you should care. It makes sense—unless you’re elderly or have a newborn or a loved one with a compromised immune system, the flu probably doesn’t register as a serious health threat. But getting sick can affect not just your body, but your budget as well.

The Obvious Costs

The below costs are for a single “serving”, prescription or item. The typical flu lasts for 1-2 weeks with the most severe symptoms lasting 2-3 days. So multiply these costs accordingly.

  1. Tissues for runny nose: $2/box
  2. 20oz bottle of Sports Drinks for electrolytes: $2.25/bottle
  3. Flu medicine to ease stuffiness, body aches and fever: about $7/box
  4. Tamiflu to lessen the severity and duration of flu: This is an antiviral that requires a prescription. If you’re paying cash, Tamiflu costs about $155 for 10 capsules, but could cost less if your pharmacy offers a coupon. If you have insurance, Tamiflu is covered as a Tier 2 drug which means it typically has a moderately high copay. You’ll also have to see a doctor in order to have them write a prescription, so add the required copay for doctor visits to the cost of the actual prescription.

Note: When you get the flu, there really isn’t much you can do in terms of treatment other than rest and stay hydrated. It’s a viral infection, so antibiotics don’t work and antivirals can lessen the severity of your symptoms, and can in some cases shorten the duration of the flu, but they’re not necessarily “cures”.

Medical professionals also caution people with the flu not to go to the emergency room unless their symptoms are severe. There’s nothing the emergency room staff will be able to do for you except hook you up to an IV and in the process, you’ll put people with vulnerable health at risk for catching the flu.

The Less Obvious Costs

U.S. employees miss an estimated 111 million workdays each year due to the flu. That means lower productivity and earnings for the company and potential financial strain for the employees. If you’re paid hourly or complete shift work, you’re likely not allotted paid time off or paid sick days. The days you stay home from work due to the flu (probably 2-3 days while your symptoms are the most severe), will cost you in terms of a lower paycheck. Since a recent study showed that almost 80 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a lower paycheck could mean late payments to utilities (and corresponding late fees) or not enough money for rent or groceries.

If you have a job that allows for paid sick leave or PTO, you won’t see a reduction in your paycheck should you take time off for the flu, but you won’t be able to use those paid leave days for something else like a vacation or time off to care for a sick family member. In fact, during the 2017-2018 flu season, schools in 12 states closed temporarily due to staff, teachers and students being diagnosed with the flu. That meant that some parents had to take time off work to care for their children even if everyone in their household was healthy.

How can you avoid the flu?

  1. Get a flu vaccine. Most healthcare plans offer the flu vaccine for free as a preventative service. If your plan doesn’t cover it, you can always go to your local pharmacy and see if they offer flu vaccines for a discounted rate.
  2. Wash your hands frequently and always before eating or touching your face.
  3. Avoid people who have the flu.
  4. Avoid touching things in high-traffic areas. Think of things like the subway, your work elevator, or a hand railing on a stairwell.

Even if you take the utmost precautions, almost everyone gets the flu at some point. If you do, hopefully you have a little financial cushion so that you don’t have the stress of missing work and other costs on top of added to the discomfort of being sick.

Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.