For Influenza Planning, The Time Is Now
How is one to make sense of it all, and what response actions are reasonable both for individuals and for businesses?
Public health officials were criticized for what appeared to be an overreaction to the emergence of H1N1 (commonly known as “Swine Flu”). Two factors played into those criticisms. First, the criteria used for the definition of a pandemic does not include lethality! While the virus moved with impressive speed, in terms of deaths, it was not the horrible event that many planners had expected like that of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Second, public health officials have the unenviable task of forecasting the future of a constantly moving target. Their warnings were based on an aggregation of factors that suggested this virus had the potential to be very serious. Thankfully, that has not yet been the case. While it is tempting to chide the public health establishment, should we not expect our public servants to err on the side of caution and plan for the serious scenario?
Viruses are changeable
The story, however, is not over. Viruses rapidly mutate and evolve. Influenza activity has been relatively low in the U.S. this summer, but H1N1 has continued to circulate in the southern hemisphere. While there, it has been closely monitored and appears to slowly becoming more dangerous. If this trend continues or accelerates, it has the potential to do real damage to our families, businesses and communities when it returns in the fall.
What to do
As you read this, it is possible that influenza has already arrived in the Lansing area. Understand that planning is underway for two different onslaughts of influenza.
The normal round of seasonal flu is anticipated and your health department is ready with the vaccine for the expected subtypes. Be sure you get your annual influenza vaccination.
Swine Flu is the big unknown. We hope it will not become more deadly, but we cannot wait passively to find out. Simple planning measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of infection (from either influenza virus) to your family and organizational staff.
First, always use only established, reliable and respected sources of information for your decisions. For H1N1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is front and center on this list.
Second, emergency preparedness begins at home. It is good business to support personal and household planning as a corporate value. If your staff are not secure in the fact that their loved ones and household are safe in an emergency, then they are not likely to come to work. Sites such as www.do1thing.us and www.ready.gov are excellent sources for personal planning.
In the workplace, most preventive actions for H1N1 are quite simple and common sense. Some of the recommended actions from the CDC go as follows:
• Sick employees should stay home.
• Sick employees at work should be advised to go home.
• Encourage your employees to wash their hands often.
• Encourage your employees to cover their coughs and sneezes.
• Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces and items that are more likely to have frequent hand contact.
• Encourage employees to get vaccinated.
• Protect employees who are at higher risk for complications from the flu.
• Prepare for increased absences.
• Prepare for the possibility of school dismissals or temporary closure of childcare programs.
For businesses, the CDC provides not only basic planning information, but sample employee educational materials, even posters and instructional videos. All of the above and a great deal more can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business/
We can only hope that the upcoming influenza season is again minor. Health officials are certain that an influenza virus will someday arrive with the potential to cause serious damage to our communities. Simple actions in the household and workplace can serve us well if that moment comes this season. Why would we not plan ahead?
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Joseph DeFors is co-founder and principal officer of Comprehensive Emergency Management Associates, Inc. (CEMA). CEMA is a full service emergency planning firm based in East Lansing specializing in planning, training and emergency exercising.