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Flu season strains businesses, workers

– Nearly half the 70 employees at a Ford dealership in Clarksville, Ind., have been out sick at some point in the past month. It didn’t have to be that way, the boss says.

“If people had stayed home in the first place, a lot of times that spread wouldn’t have happened,” says Marty Book, a vice president at Carriage Ford. “But people really want to get out and do their jobs, and sometimes that’s a detriment.”

The flu season that has struck early and hard across the U.S. is putting businesses and employees alike in a bind.

In this shaky economy, many Americans are reluctant to call in sick, something that can backfire for their employers.

Flu was widespread in 47 states last week, up from 41 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The only states without widespread flu were California, Mississippi and Hawaii. And the main strain of the virus circulating tends to make people sicker than usual.

Blake Fleetwood, president of Cook Travel in New York, says his agency is operating with less than 40 percent of its full-time staff because of the flu and a host of other ailments.

“The people here are working longer hours and it puts a lot of strain on everyone,” Fleetwood says. “You don’t know whether to ask people with the flu to come in or not.” He says the flu is also taking its toll on business as customers cancel their travel plans: “People are getting the flu and they’re reduced to a shriveling little mess and don’t feel like going anywhere.”

Flu season typically costs employers $10.4 billion for hospitalization and doctor’s office visits, according to the CDC. That does not include the costs of lost productivity from absences.

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