Did you Wash Your Hands Today? RISK and the H1N1 PANDEMIC

The CDC reported on August 29, that, as of April 15, 2009, total of 9,079 hospitalizations and 593 deaths associated with 2009 influenza A (H1N1) viruses
have been reported to the CDC.

I put on a seminar last week with the Florida International Bankers Association in Miami, Florida, and one of the topics on the menu was the H1N1 Flu. Now, about ten days later, the media is starting to report on H1N1 sweeping through the college campuses and elementary schools. It hasn’t hit employers hard yet, but I am confident that it will.

And this time it comes with some surprising statistics. The younger you are, the more at risk you are. Apparently if you are over 60, or born after 1956, you are mostly immune because a similar flu that made the rounds in ’57 gave people alive at the time, antibodies that will protect you this time.

I have noticed the increase in sincere doctors talking about how they are going to immunize their own children – that is, after the new vaccine comes out in mid-October.

Hospitals have already been hit especially hard by the recession, due to the increase of patients who have lost their jobs, and therefore their health insurance; and that has increased activity in the local emergency rooms. But look what the forecast is for hospitals at the height of the possible epidemic — Under some models, seriously ill influenza patients could require 50 to 100 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds at the epidemic’s peak, stressing the medical and public health systems to the point of overwhelming some hospitals, and could cause from 30,000 to 90,000 deaths, concentrated among children and young adults.

I went to the local grocery and stocked up on hand sanitizer for the office and also lots of foil-wrapped sanitizing wipes – keeping them in my purse and suitcase, for those occasions where I have to shake a lot of hands.

What is the effect on a business if H1N1 does reach pandemic proportions?
Your personal risk varies depending on your age. Older workers will not be affected but take a look at your workforce and calculate how many have young children or school age children.

Since transmission increases in group settings, and kids are known for not being the most hygienic of creatures – there is a better than fair chance that your employees will have children who get sick and they will have to stay home with their children.
Some schools may have to close for 4-8 weeks. Especially since elementary school teachers are often in the target group and often have small children themselves. In my own office, two-thirds of the associates are under forty and half of those have small children. One expert said that if the 30% figure holds, then expect a ten-fold increase in absenteeism.

If your organization is part of the critical infrastructure, you might want to get a professional assessment of your risk, not just to identify it, but to get a set of operating procedures you can use if the pandemic does materialize.

Here are a few things to think about:

1. Encouraging an option for employees to work at home.
2. Deciding in advance what to do when an employee tells you he has H1N1.
3. Cross-training for important as well as critical functions.
4. Think about curtailing employee travel, if necessary.
5. Consider the impact if public transportation is not available, or
Not safe to use.

Seriously consider getting some No-Doz for your employees over sixty who may have to work much longer hours!!