“Pilgrim’s Plague” and workplace absenteeism

 Last year, Sydney Australia hosted World Youth Day (WYD).  In some ways Australia had not seen such a large influx of people from so many countries for a single event before.  The Sydney Olympics had a high proportion of locals attending and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics never had the infrastructure to provide so many overseas visitors.

For several months after the 2008 World Youth Day, it was rumoured that the level of absenteeism in workplaces was very high.  At the time of WYD there were several reports of quarantined pilgrims and the risk to public health of the Sydney population was assessed. (Peter Curson, professor of population and security in the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney wrote a discussion piece on this)

There were reports of influenza and viral gastroenteritis amongst pilgrims who were required to be quarantined.

The Medical Journal of Australia has released a report into the impact of World Youth Day on the emergency departments of hospitals (MJA 2008; 189 (11/12): 630-632).  This study found minimal impact in this sector of the hospital care.

However, SafetyAtWorkBlog is not aware of any research having been done on the impact of  World Youth Day on workplace absenteeism.  The EMJA study correlates World Youth Day with hospital admissions but it would be useful to see a comparative study of workplace absenteeism in the weeks after WYD, during the incubation period of influenza in particular.

World Youth Day did seem to overlap with the existing flu season in Australia’s winter but those statistical peaks are well-established and it would be interesting to see if those peaks had increased just after World Youth Day.

If there were a correlation, cost estimates for hosting the event may need adjusting to include the reduced productivity due to the “pilgrim’s plague”.