In 1918, Babe Ruth pitched the opening game of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox (they won the series) and a worldwide flu pandemic got under way, with over 500 million people stricken with the infection. A digital encyclopedia of that disaster — the flu, not the subsequent trade of Ruth to the Yankees — was launched last year by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine.
Now, with a serious seasonal influenza outbreak in the United States, we can be grateful that since 1918 we’ve developed effective preventive vaccines and have new anti-viral drugs, as well as excellent flu tracking and public information campaigns such Elmo & Rosita on the right way to sneeze. A ton of information is online.
Unfortunately, one of the key measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care and for other necessities - is not an option for too large a number of Americans. Millions of people lack access to affordable medical care. And millions of workers lack paid sick days; they risk losing their jobs and their family income if they stay home, even when sick with a contagious and dangerous ailment.
Remedying this situation doesn’t require science. It requires legislation — mandating paid sick leave as in the proposed Healthy Families Act. This act was introduced in the 112th Congress and will be reintroduced shortly in the 113th. Passing and enacting the legislation will not only provide paid sick time for the 40 million workers who need it to care for themselves or for family members, it will improve workplace productivity and spare all of us — and our kids — the risk of being exposed to contagious ailments.