Pandemic Influenza

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 8:00pm

Pandemic Planning


For the latest federal information on the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, visit http://www.flu.gov/ and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

"It's Not Flu as Usual: An H1N1 Business Preparedness Guide"
On September 18, 2009, the U.S. Chamber released "It's Not Flu as Usual," which is an H1N1 preparedness guide written for businesses of all sizes.  Click here to obtain an electronic version of the guide.   Click here for the accompanying press release. This guidance is intended to provide recommendations on how businesses can:

  • Prepare for the next wave of H1N1 flu, which may be more severe, in order to maintain business continuity.
  • Protect employees' health.
  • Cut through the maze of public information to focus on essential action steps.

Updated Federal Guidance for Businesses and Employers
On September 14, Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the availability of a preparedness guide designed to assist small businesses in planning for the possibility of an H1N1 flu outbreak this fall.

"Small Business owners should take the time to create a plan, talk with their employees and make sure they are prepared for flu season," said Mills. "For countless small businesses, having even one or two employees out for a few days has the potential to negatively impact operations and their bottom line. A thoughtful plan will help keep employees and their families healthy, as well as protect small businesses and local economies."

Also, on August 19, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and DHS released new guidance for non-healthcare employers for the upcoming flu season. Federal officials urge employers to plan to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of H1N1 flu severity and worker absenteeism.

Businesses and employers are encouraged to review the guidance and a toolkit, which include questions and answers about the guidance, fact sheets for employers and employees, and sample e-mails and text messages for businesses to send to employees.

Updated federal guidance for businesses and employers is available at www.flu.gov/professional/business/index.html.

 

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The Next Wave of the H1N1 Flu
The 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak demonstrated how rapidly a new strain of flu can emerge and spread around the world. While the initial onset of the H1N1 flu this spring in the United States briefly dominated news headlines, its impact was relatively moderate. However, the nation cannot let down its guard. Federal officials warn that a second wave this coming fall and winter could be much more widespread and severe.

As with any of the hazards that we face as a country-including natural disasters and the ongoing possibility of another terrorist attack-it is imperative that all segments of society be prepared for such a threat. The U.S. Chamber encourages preparedness for a new outbreak this fall within the business community.

In addition to the threat that a pandemic could pose to human health world-wide, few industries will be insulated from the economic effects resulting from absenteeism in the workplace or from the downstream effects stemming from supply-chain and travel disruption.

What a Pandemic Flu Could Mean to Your Business
Imagine that 10% of your employees are too sick to come to work on any given day. Imagine that over the course of several months to a year 15% or more of your workforce is absent for weeks. Imagine that the other businesses you rely on are facing the same massive absentee rates.

Each winter, the seasonal flu kills approximately 36,000 Americans, hospitalizes more than 200,000, and costs the U.S. economy more than $10 billion in lost productivity and direct medical expenses. Bad as that is, health experts warn that if the H1N1 flu virus becomes more deadly, it would quickly overwhelm the U.S. public health and health care system. It would also have a devastating effect on our nation's economy. With that much of the population and workforce affected, the H1N1 flu could disrupt your business. The impacts may be totally different for a small business than for a large business with more resources.

Track and Arrest Absenteeism
Influenza is difficult to predict, and so is determining future absenteeism scenarios. Still, employers need to know what their normal attendance rates are, so that if absenteeism rises above a certain threshold they can escalate tracking employee health and wellness and taking an array of steps to protect their business.

Absenteeism will likely be the central issue that businesses wrestle with during this pandemic. Businesses should focus on (1) reducing the transmission of the H1N1 flu in the workplace, (2) keeping employees healthy, and (3) maintaining business continuity.

Antivirals: Tamiflu® and Relenza®
As part of a business' multilayered defense, which includes hand washing and cough etiquette, the CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) for prompt treatment of people who may be at risk for complications of H1N1 flu infection, such as pregnant women and individuals with diabetes. These medications must be prescribed by a health care professional.

While the influenza vaccine is one of the most effective ways to protect people from becoming sick during a pandemic, an H1N1 vaccine may not be immediately available in significant quantities should a new wave hit the United States.

When people get sick, antiviral drugs can make their illnesses milder and make them feel better faster. Antiviral drugs work best when started soon after the onset of symptoms-within 48 hours-particularly for hospitalized patients or people at high risk for influenza-related complications.

Both Tamiflu® and Relenza® may be available from your local pharmacy or hospital and were part of the recently released Strategic National Stockpile to state and local health departments. Both makers of Tamiflu® and Relenza®-Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, respectively-have flexible purchase programs that will allow businesses to stockpile antivirals for use in a pandemic.

To learn more about antivirals:

www.flu.gov/vaccine/antiviral_employers.html (Considerations for antiviral stockpiling by employers)
www.pandemictoolkit.com/ (Roche-Tamiflu®)
www.pandemicplan.gsk.com/ (GSK-Relenza®)

Pandemic Roundtables Hosted by the Chamber

"It's Not Flu as Usual"

The Chamber have developed a brochure that will help guide businesses through the pandemic planning process. Download  Download a  printable brochure(PDF)

DHS Pandemic Influenza Guide

On September 19, 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released its pandemic guide for critical infrastructure and key resources.

Download a printable brochure (PDF)