It started with a headache.
My youngest son is not a complainer, so when he woke up in tears, we knew something was very wrong. By mid-morning, his temperature was soaring well past 102°. The doctor at urgent care told us that it wouldn’t have mattered if he had gotten the flu shot — this year’s flu shot wasn’t doing its job.
Over the next few weeks, my home converted to an infirmary. Holiday parties and get-togethers were deferred as we didn’t want to infect anyone. I used up all my sick hours at work even though I never had so much as a runny nose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more cases of the flu now in North Carolina than have been reported in five years. >>This is officially an epidemic.
For women in North Carolina, a flu epidemic means much more than just the physical complications of the virus. Like me, many mothers are forced to make hard choices when it comes to work and family. Studies have shown that women are up to >>10 times more likely to stay home with a sick child than their male counterparts. (What’s up with that?)
Even a day’s worth of lost wages can make a huge difference in the lives of working families, and the flu means much more than a single day out. Depending on where a woman works, sick pay may not be an option. Termination may be a reality.
The >>Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not protect against time lost due to the flu unless the illness results in a hospitalization that requires medical treatment more than twice in a 30-day period. One out of every five North Carolina residents are not covered by medical insurance. So, where does that leave women with sick kids?
Having to choose between leaving a sick child at home alone and losing the income that allows your family to have a home is a travesty. Expansion of the FMLA is crucial to working families. Reduction of the exemptions — which affect 40% of the United States workforce — and broadening the guidelines for temporary illnesses would have major positive impacts.
Covering workers in the retail and food service industries, both well-known for their paltry benefits offerings and low wages, could make huge differences in the lives of our most at-risk families (not to mention a decline in virus transmission through casual contact).
It starts with a headache, but can lead to much worse. I was fortunate that I could take some time off to tend to my child. We need to ensure that all families have that same opportunity. We don’t have a cure for the flu, but we can heal the system that punishes those who contract it.
>>Leanne Simon is a mother, writer and social justice worker. She holds degrees in Child Development and Spanish from North Carolina Central University, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies at UNC-Greensboro.