The Swine Flu Outbreak: Questions Answered, Practical Prevention Advice, And Planning If The Situation Gets Worse
With the media focusing on the increasing number of swine flu cases reported in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere, employers need to be prepared to address their employees’ concerns. For the latest developments and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on this flu outbreak, go to the CDC’s website: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.
The CDC has reported additional cases of confirmed swine flu and a number of swine flu patients. The situation is more serious internationally, with additional countries reporting confirmed cases of swine flu. In response to this intensifying outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level on April 29 to Phase 5. A Phase 5 alert is characterized by confirmed human-to-human spread of a new influenza virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. According to the WHO website, “[w]hile most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”
This Alert answers the most common questions about this swine flu virus, provides practical advice for how to avoid getting sick, and outlines a proactive approach to planning in the event this outbreak gets worse.
Answers To Common Questions
Q. What is swine flu?
A. It is a common respiratory disease in pigs that does not usually spread to people.
Q. How is this swine flu virus different?
A. This strain appears to be a subtype not seen before in humans or pigs, with genetic material from pigs, birds and humans, according to WHO. During a press conference last Sunday, Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, reported that unlike most cases of swine flu, this virus can spread from person to person.
Q. What are the symptoms?
A. According to the CDC, the most common symptoms are fever, fatigue, lack of appetite and coughing, although some people also developed a runny nose, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea.
Q. What should you do if you have these symptoms?
A. Besser advised people with symptoms to stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the illness. He also advised people to call their doctors to ask about the best treatment rather than simply showing up at a clinic or hospital emergency room.
Q. What is the incubation period for this flu?
A. In most cases, infected people develop symptoms within 1-4 days.
Q. Is there a vaccine against swine flu?
A. Not yet.
Everyday Actions People Can Take To Stay Healthy
The CDC has issued guidance recommending that people take the following actions:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing by infected people.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in the trash immediately after you use it. Alternatively, cough into your elbow rather than covering your mouth with your hand.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners (containing at least 60% alcohol) are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread that way.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Proactive Employers Should Consider Adopting A Pandemic Plan
In the face of this information, employers should consider adopting a pandemic preparedness plan in the event the current outbreak worsens.
The following is a checklist for such a plan:
- Provide your employees with free or discounted flu and tetanus shots.
- Educate your employees on basic health precautions at work and at home, not reporting to work sick or exposed, leaving work promptly when symptoms occur, and tracking who is ready to return to work or obtaining medical releases to return to work.
- Implement increased prevention and transmission precautions by increased cleaning measures, disposal of employee tissues, and cleaning up after sick employees.
- Select safety equipment for key personnel such as masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies and equipment and train them on the proper use of this equipment and cleaning supplies.
- If you do not already have one, buy an insurance policy for short-term disability and salary continuation.
- Revise your policies regarding attendance, leave, vacation, time off, and no pay advances to permit more flexible work schedules.
- Have a disaster communications policy and system in place for communicating with employees in the event of an emergency.
- Develop and communicate travel restrictions to any known infected areas.
- Contact vendors and suppliers to ensure that they are available to continue to support your operations and, if not, seek alternative sources for your supplies.
- Coordinate with federal, state, and local authorities in control of public health and safety in case of quarantines and inoculation efforts.
- Develop and implement evacuation plans if necessary.
- Prepare facility shutdown checklists.
One additional point about planning. The CDC and federal and state Occupational Safety and Health agencies are expected to issue new guidelines regarding swine flu. Employers should not only watch for these new guidelines but also ensure that their pandemic plan is consistent with these guidelines.
Now that you know what is going on, answer your employees’ questions about the current swine flu outbreak. Also, share with them the CDC’s recommended steps to stay healthy. In addition, keep up to date on the latest news from the CDC’s website. Finally, if you have not already done so, consider adopting a pandemic plan for future use. Should you have any questions about the swine flu outbreak, contact the Ogletree Deakins attorney with whom you normally work or the Client Services Department at 866-287-2576 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This article was published in the April 29, 2009 issue of the National eAuthority.