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Academic Minute

Dr. Supriya Kumar, University of Pittsburgh – Sick Days and Flu Outbreaks


In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Supriya Kumar of the University of Pittsburgh examines how flu outbreaks can be reduced by encouraging workers to use an extra sick day.

Supriya Kumar is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. Her research addresses the impact of social and cognitive factors on behavior related to health with a specific focus on how policy, social environment, and individual social position impact health behaviors. She earned her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University.

About Dr. Kumar

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Dr. Supriya Kumar – Sick Days and Flu Outbreaks

Our new research reveals that if paid sick days were made available to all employees, the result would be a reduction in flu cases. The US CDC recommends that people with influenza stay home for an additional 24 hours after their fever has resolved. Not everyone is able to follow these guidelines, however, and one reason is lack of access to paid sick days. Using computational simulations, we quantified the number of cases that could be prevented under different policy scenarios.

In a baseline simulation, people had access to paid sick days based on data from the US bureau of labor statistics—lower access in workplaces with fewer than 50 employees and higher access in larger workplaces. We assumed that employees with sick days were more likely to stay home when ill and that the average absence from work was close to 2 days. In this baseline scenario 11% of the employed population was infected.

The first policy scenario assumed that all employees had access to paid sick days. This universal paid sick days policy is expected to increase the proportion of people staying home, but not the average length of absence. The result: flu cases in the workplace were reduced by 6 percent compared to baseline.
Next, we tested a scenario in which all employees had access to “flu days”—paid days to recover from the flu. Flu days promote sick employees staying home for additional days over and above the current average of about 2 days

The result: one “flu day” reduced cases by 25 percent and two flu days by 39%. We conclude that flu days are effective at reducing the spread of influenza and that layering them on top of a universal paid sick days policy could equitably reduce disease in the workplace.


Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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