Prepare Your Company Plan Now for Avian Flu Pandemic

Kachina Shaw

While much of our collective attention has been absorbed in politics, terrorist attacks and, this week, the Kentucky Derby (especially for those of us here in Louisville), a potentially devastating threat has been developing quickly. If you’ve not seen the latest on the H7N9 avian flu strain, you may not be aware that some believe we could be facing a flu pandemic to dwarf the avian flu of four years ago.

The latest information from the CDC is that H7N9, which originated in China, is not in the United States. WHO monitors say that their studies show that this virus does have the potential to become a pandemic, spreading from human to human. Official cautions have been made. On April 19, a determination of the potential of a public health emergency “that has a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad” was released.

Sources say that Chinese health authorities have reported 126 cases of infection and 24 deaths. One case has been reported in Taiwan, in a man who had traveled from mainland China. Chinese authorities have also verified that this strain appears to transmit to humans more easily than other avian flus.

Are we ready for the threat? We are not. But we can plan now for a possibly serious situation. In fact, this is the type of risky situation that we can actually do much to mitigate, in order to protect employees and employers, along with public health.

What You Can Do About the Flu

Make it clear that employees are not to come to work sick. With all the attention on telecommuting policies in recent months, this should be a conversation that has already been held, or an easy continuation. If you are still fine-tuning telecommuting policies and procedures, check out IT Business Edge’s new IT Download, “Telecommuting: Benefits, Risks, Tips and More,” and use it to clear up any outstanding questions.

Examine your work-from-home setup. Are some employees working remotely part time? Are you prepared for them to shift to full-time remote work with little notice? Are you prepared for ALL of them to shift to full-time remote work with little notice? In a fast-moving pandemic, this will be a necessity, not an option.

Look at travel plans. Are employees scheduled to travel in the coming weeks? Where? Why? Can the travel be cancelled in favor of videoconferencing or conference calls? Do employees have access codes and instructions?

Assign a point person for information dissemination. Put one member of the risk management team or management team in charge of monitoring updates from the CDC on a daily basis. The point person may want to initiate periodic memos to the company, updating everyone on the spread of the flu virus, the company’s plans for addressing illness, if needed, and providing a centralized source of answers to the questions that will surely arise.

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