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People line up to get their H1N1 vaccination on Friday, October 30, 2009 in St. Eustache Que. Waiting times of seven hours are common as vaccination centres are overwhelmed by the demand. (Ryan Remiorz)
People line up to get their H1N1 vaccination on Friday, October 30, 2009 in St. Eustache Que. Waiting times of seven hours are common as vaccination centres are overwhelmed by the demand. (Ryan Remiorz)

1.5 million called in sick with flu Add to ...

Almost one in 10 Canadian workers called in sick at some point in November because of the flu, Statistics Canada says - an impact equal to the massive blackout that hit Ontario and part of Quebec in the summer of 2003.

The federal agency said Friday that about 1.5 million workers aged 15 to 69, or 9 per cent of the work force, reported taking time off work because of the HINI or seasonal flu. The flu, as well as time spent lining up for flu shots and caring for the sick, cost the country almost 30 million work hours.

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The flu effect also resulted in an increase in overtime for those who did make it to work. Statscan says about 600,000 workers picked up some of the slack and worked an extra 8.6 million hours. The net loss to Canada's economy as a whole was about 21 million work hours.

To measure the effects of the H1N1 influenza pandemic last fall, the Public Health Agency of Canada commissioned Statscan to add questions to its monthly labour force survey.

The lost work hours in November from the flu are slightly higher than those caused by the massive 2003 blackout that struck northeast North America, Statscan said.

That event cost 2.4 million workers in Ontario and Gatineau, Que., a total of 26.4 million hours of work time. Subtracting 7.5 million hours in overtime worked, the net loss from the power outage was 18.9 million hours, Statscan said.

In the flu pandemic, women were more likely to miss work than men. In November, 10.5 per cent of women said they lost work hours, higher than the 7.6 per cent of men.

Workers aged 30 to 44 were more likely to report lost hours, with almost 12 per cent reporting an average of almost 19 lost hours each.

Naturally, workers with children reported more lost hours, at 12.4 per cent - almost double the proportion (6.9 per cent) of those without children. Those with children 12 and under had the highest absentee rate, at 15 per cent.

By province, Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest rate of flu-related absenteeism with 14.2 per cent of workers aged 15 to 69 calling in sick. Quebec had the lowest rate at 7.6 per cent.

Not surprisingly, health workers were the most likely to report working more hours because of the flu, with 10.5 per cent saying they did so.

Follow on Twitter: @jeffreybgray

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