With the flu season coming in the next few months, government officials are preparing for the onset of the new H1N1 virus, formally called swine flu. Policies that affect schools and hospitals are being announced, within the context that the virus will hit hard during this year’s flu season.
Businesses that involve direct contact with people are also being asked to plan ahead. The following governmental recommendations are specifically geared toward businesses that require employees to come in close contact with other employees and/or the public to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control has made it clear that most people who have become ill with H1N1 have recovered without medical attention, but there have been instances of hospitalization and even death, typical with seasonal flu as well. The symptoms of the virus are also similar to those of the typical seasonal flu, which includes fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some of those infected have also reported diarrhea and vomiting.
The H1N1 virus appears to spread the same way as a typical flu, person to person via coughing or sneezing and by touching something with the flu virus on it. Therefore, the best way to prevent your workers from becoming sick is to advise them on a number of hygienic procedures, such as proper hand washing and cough etiquette. Also, the CDC recommends employers to encourage sick workers to stay home as well as provide hand sanitizers, tissues, disinfectants and disposable towels in the work place.
If an employee comes down with influenza-like symptoms in a community where the H1N1 virus has been reported, the CDC recommends the employer notifies either the appropriate health center or first aid personnel. The infected employee should be sent home as soon as possible, and in the interim, should cover their coughs and/or sneezes with a tissue or possibly wear a facemask.
A sick worker with H1N1 symptoms should remain at home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. If any emergency warning signs develop, emergency medical help should be called immediately. For more information on these types of emergency warning signals, visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/sick.htm.
To minimize the impact of the H1N1 virus on employees, the CDC advises businesses to review their policies for leave and employee compensation, ensuring they are flexible and non-punitive. Additionally, plans should be made for the possibility of unscheduled leave by employees staying home to either care for themselves or others who are sick with the flu. If possible and necessary, employers should establish policies for flexible worksites, such as telecommuting, and flexible work hours, like staggered shifts.
For more information and the CDC’s General Business and Workplace Guidance for the Prevention of Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Flu in Workers Web page, go to www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/workplace.htm.