The Economic Costs of the Flu in the United States

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The Microeconomics of the Flu

The costs of the flu to the average family can be substantial. Image credit: John Hughes.

The costs of the flu to the average family can be substantial. Image credit: John Hughes.

The actual costs of flu season vary greatly due to many factors, not the least of which is whether or not members of an individual family contract the flu in a given year. Furthermore, the severity of the illness is directly correlated with age, not to mention the ultimate economic impact. Roughly 90% of fatalities occur in the age group of 65 and older.

With respect to children, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated the following:

  • Medical expenses were between under $300 to about $4,000, depending upon whether or not hospitalization was required. Time missed from work varied between 11 and 73 hours.
  • Emergency room expenditures (if incurred) averaged about $730.
  • Depending upon whether patients were hospitalized, treated in emergency rooms or were outpatients, lost income averaged $1,456, $383 and $222 respectively.
  • Post-treatment out-of-pocket expenses ranged between $52 and $178.
  • Emergency room costs were highest amongst patients under two years old ($935)

Between 5-20% of the U.S. population gets the flu every year. Assuming an average of 12.5%, that means almost 40 million people contract the virus. The average direct cost of the illness is about $250 per person.

The Macroeconomics of the Flu

Growth of economies is directly and measurably impacted by influenza.  Credit: The Conference Board.

Growth of economies is directly and measurably impacted by influenza. Credit: The Conference Board.

On the national scale, the costs associated with influenza are large. Salient facts are as follows:

  • The national impact of the flu each year averages a staggering $87.1 billion, varying between .24% and .79% of GDP annually.
  • Loss of business earnings averages $16.3 billion.
  • Average annual life-years lost is 610,660.
  • The flu has direct costs to employers of $76.7 million.
  • Employee absences are 32% higher during flu season than the rest of the year.
  • Average cost of a flu shot: $35.

With the median cost of a hurricane at $1.8 billion, the $87 billion overall economic impact of influenza is the equivalent of 48 hurricanes striking the United States each and every year. It takes a serious, significant toll on the overall economy, and given the tepid growth rate we’re experiencing, a bad flu season could actually make the difference between just staying ahead and sinking into another recession.

Flu and the Economy

When you get the flu, rest up, drink lots of fluids and be sure to take care of yourself. You’re not just an influenza victim — you’re a microeconomics/macroeconomics statistic.

Resources

CNN Staff. Your top 10 flu questions answered(2013). CNN. Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. (2013). Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Troy, Tevi. Five myths about this year’s flu. (2013). The Washington Post. Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Investopedia. Microeconomics(2013). Macroeconomics(2013). Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Study: Treating children’s flu illness costly(2013). Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza: Questions & Answers(2013). Accessed on February 18, 2013.

Koba, Mark. Major flu outbreak threatens to slow US economy further(2013). NBC News. Accessed on February 18, 2013.

AccuWeather. How Much Does a Hurricane Cost?  (2011). Accessed on February 18, 2013.

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