Preparing for Autumn Obstacles
The 2009 flu season is expected to be harsh. Learn how to minimize the impact of swine and other flus on your business.
by John Austin
A new flu, the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has spread around the globe since it arose this winter in a Mexican village. A new surge in infections is expected this fall, raising concern among employers and workers everywhere about health at home, at work, at school, and in the community. The reality of this came home to me this summer when my granddaughter went to a vocal music camp on a Sunday and, by Wednesday, 27 children had been sent home with one form of flu or another, including swine flu. By Friday, the closing concert scheduled for the next day was cancelled and the remaining campers were sent home a day early. As I was listening to the news that night, a doctor reported similar incidents all over the country.
The seriousness of this threat should not be underestimated. In a recently issued report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, (www.whitehouse.gov/asset.aspx?AssetId=2544) the following sobering scenario about the autumn 2009 flu season was put forward:
- Infection of 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. population this fall and winter, with symptoms in approximately 20 to 40 percent of the population (60 million to 120 million), more than half of whom would seek medical attention;
- As many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions, with up to 300,000 requiring intensive care (using 50 to 100 percent of all ICU beds in affected regions);
- H1N1 causing between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States;
- Especially high risks for individuals with certain pre-existing conditions, including pregnant women and those with neurological disorders, respirator impairment, diabetes, and severe obesity; and
- High risks for certain populations, such as Native Americans.
To help businesses and health professionals prepare for this serious, perhaps pandemic, flu outbreak, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have developed updated guidance for employers to use as they plan to respond to 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza. Employers play a major role in protecting employees’ health and safety, as well as in limiting the negative impact of influenza outbreaks on the individual, the company, the community, and the nation’s economy. Employers should review and revise their pandemic plans in light of the current 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, taking into account the extent and severity of disease in their community. That guidance can be found at www.flu.gov. Information specific to businesses can be accessed at: www.flu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/guidance.html. You can access a communications tool kit for employers through the following link: www.flu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/toolkit.html. Additionally, you can access an archived Webcast, “Know What to Do About the Flu,” through the following link: www.flu.gov/livewebcastcc.html. Portions of this article have been taken from these sites.
Employers must consider a variety of objectives as they determine how to decrease the spread of influenza and lower the impact of influenza in the workplace. They should consider and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following:
- Reduce transmission among staff.
- Encourage employees to obtain flu vaccinations.
- Protect people who are at increased risk of influenza related complications from getting infected with influenza.
- Maintain business operations, including planning for:
- Increased numbers of employee absences due to illness among employees and their family members, and
- Ways for essential business functions to continue.
- Minimize adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.
The most basic, but probably the most important, guidelines and precautions that can and should be followed to prevent the spread of flu include the following:
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