Background: As many respiratory viruses are responsible for influenza like symptoms, accurate measures of the disease burden are not available and estimates are generally based on statistical methods. The objective of this study was to estimate absenteeism rates and hours lost due to seasonal influenza and compare these estimates with estimates of absenteeism attributable to the two H1N1 pandemic waves that occurred in 2009.
Methods: Key absenteeism variables were extracted from Statistics Canada's monthly labour force survey (LFS). Absenteeism and the proportion of hours lost due to own illness or disability were modelled as a function of trend, seasonality and proxy variables for influenza activity from 1998 to 2009.
Results: Hours lost due to the H1N1/09 pandemic strain were elevated compared to seasonal influenza, accounting for a loss of 0.2% of potential hours worked annually. In comparison, an estimated 0.08% of hours worked annually were lost due to seasonal influenza illnesses. Absenteeism rates due to influenza were estimated at 12% per year for seasonal influenza over the 1997/98 to 2008/09 seasons, and 13% for the two H1N1/09 pandemic waves. Employees who took time off due to a seasonal influenza infection took an average of 14 hours off. For the pandemic strain, the average absence was 25 hours.
Conclusions: This study confirms that absenteeism due to seasonal influenza has typically ranged from 5% to 20%, with higher rates associated with multiple circulating strains. Absenteeism rates for the 2009 pandemic were similar to those occurring for seasonal influenza. Employees took more time off due to the pandemic strain than was typical for seasonal influenza.