Pandemics are inevitable and businesses must prepare now by developing continuity plans in case of a flu outbreak, said Scott Mugno, managing director, corporate safety, health and fire protection at FedEx Express.
According to Mugno, pandemics will happen and have happened regularly throughout history. Some examples include the 1918 Spanish flu, responsible for 40 to 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in the United States; the 1957 Asian flu that caused one to four million deaths, 70,000 in the United States; and the 1968 Hong Kong flu also responsible for one to four million deaths, 34,000 within the United States. Not to mention the increasing cases of avian bird flu developing worldwide. It is necessary, he said, for businesses to have a continuity plan in place before the next major pandemic flu outbreak.
The term flu pandemic refers to a new influenza virus that people have little to no immunity to and there is no available vaccine, making a pandemic a global disease outbreak, said Mugno, during a recent webinar for the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), “Pandemic Influenza: Threat vs. Preparedness.
Currently, there is worldwide concern about the possible spread of the Avian H5N1 (A H5N1) virus. The influenza A H5N1 virus raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because it is particularly potent. A H5N1 is spread by migratory birds and can be transmitted from birds to mammals and in some circumstances to humans. The virus continues to change and has a high death rate percentage in known human cases. As of Dec. 13, 2007, there are 339 known confirmed human cases of A H5N1 and 208 confirmed deaths, a fatality rate of 61 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, Mugno said, “the A H5N1 may not be the pandemic flu. The key is for businesses and the public to stay informed and updated. Businesses need to teach awareness and take precautions now.”
Mugno said the key message from the U.S. government is, “given the magnitude of a severe pandemic influenza, individuals, families, businesses and local and state governments must prepare for the pandemic and not count on the federal government for a significant portion of support and relief.”
“Stay informed about the A H5N1 virus, especially if it evolves or mutates,” Mugno said. “Pay attention to news of doctors or nurses becoming infected, signs of clusters of infections, outbreaks in under developed areas or countries, news of quarantines, smuggling of birds, under reporting of H5N1 cases as well as expert consensus on precautions and tools. Stay informed and communicate, communicate, communicate.”
The economic and human impact of a possible pandemic is very costly. According to a March 2007 Trust for America’s Health Analysis, the U.S. economy could lose an estimated $683 billion, roughly 5.5 percent decline in annual GDP.
Key concerns of U.S. pandemic preparedness, according to Mugno, include lack of vaccine and vaccine production capability; inadequate capabilities to distribute vaccine and medical equipment; insufficient stockpile of antiviral drugs and other medical equipment; gaps in hospital and health care provider capacity to manage a surge of patients; a shortage in health care providers; and health insurance and workers’ comp issues; as well as the major threat to life.
Planning for an outbreak
The following are planning tips Mugno suggests on how businesses can prepare for a pandemic flu.
* Establish trigger points to and checklists as waves of pandemic phases occur.
* Review business demand shifts.
* Prepare media point person for the pandemic.
* Conduct company wide analysis of essential/nonessential functions.
* Develop emergency corporate chain of command.
* Develop essential contacts/relationships with governmental agencies.
* Consider increasing security for warehouses and vehicles.
* Develop procedures.
* Develop plans to minimize the high potential for a fuel shortage.
* Develop policies to address drivers/operators shortage.
* Investigate the potential to secure housing for critical employees.
* Develop cooperative arrangements with suppliers.
In addition, employers who are considering stockpiling antiviral drugs should plan for collaboration with state and local public health departments, comply with state and federal prescribing and dispensing laws and regulations, consider ethical and equity concerns as well as cost and logistical concerns, develop stockpiling and dispensing models and educate their employees.
For further information on pandemic flu and pandemic flu business preparedness visit www.pandemicflu.gov, www.osha.gov/pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) at www.who.int, as well as the New Zealand Ministry of Health at www.moh.govt.nz/pandemicinfluenza for general information and www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/pandemicinfluenza-guidelines-forbusinesses for businesses.
Source: ASSE, www.asse.org