Prepare Your Company for an Influenza Pandemic

Published September 2009

Influenza is a seasonal virus that strikes as early as October, but usually influenza illnesses peak in January or February. On average, every year in the United States 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu, with the possibility of more this year because of the increased threat of the H1N1 virus. Similar to the average influenza virus, the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus, commonly refered to as ‘Swine Flu,’ is also seasonal though the symptoms it causes are more severe.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), there is currently a global pandemic occurring from the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus. On June 11th, 2009 the WHO pandemic alert level was raised from Phase 5 up to Phase 6. While Phase 5 is characterized by humans infecting each other in scattered areas, Phase 6 is considered the global pandemic level with widespread infection. Just last week, there were 100 suspected H1N1 flu cases at Georgia Tech and more cases are expected as fall classes begin. With the combination of the heightened pandemic alert level and flu season coming back around again, pandemic preparedness becomes more important than ever.

Below is a list of ideas and suggestions to help businesses with pandemic preparedness.

  • Appoint a primary contact to answer questions about how your company will handle and react to a pandemic.
  • Plan for a situation in which demand for certain products and services are greatly increased or decreased.
  • Identify what elements of your business are necessary to maintain day-to-day operations (i.e. – employees, materials, suppliers and vendors).
  • Establish and maintain an emergency communication plan (organize important contacts as well as backups incase they are also affected).
  • Prepare for employee absences due to personal or family member illness. Consider establishing policies for compensation and sick leave specifically for a pandemic. Also consider company insurance policies such as short-term disability or salary continuation.
  • Avoid disciplining employees who refuse to come to work if reasonable health risks exist.
  • Attempt to be flexible with work schedules and worksites if possible. Telecommunications make it possible to continue business operations without the threat of spreading germs.
  • Monitor or restrict employees’ travel plans for meetings, trade shows, conferences or other events that take place in areas with high risk of infection.
  • Communicate with other local businesses to learn how other companies are preparing for a pandemic.
  • Develop or update company policies on health and safety. Also determine a policy or schedule for when a previously ill employee may return to work.
  • Encourage hygiene practices that can slow or stop the spread of germs. Remember preventing is more effective than reacting to influenza.

For further information on the H1N1 virus, consider viewing the following links: