Is Your Business Prepared for a Flu Pandemic?
Avian Influenza or H5N1
is one of the few avian
influenza viruses to have crossed the species barrier to infect humans. H5N1 has caused the largest number of
detected cases of severe disease and death in humans. In the current outbreaks in Asia and Europe, more than
half of those infected with the H5N1 virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy
children and young adults. However, it is possible that the only cases currently being reported are those in the
most severely ill people, and that the full range of illness caused by the H5N1 virus has not yet been
far, the spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been limited and has not continued beyond one person.
Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus
one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.
Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is
little or no immune protection against them in the human population. If H5N1 virus were to gain the capacity to
spread easily from person to person, a pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could begin. No one can predict
when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation very closely
and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may mutate and begin to spread more easily and widely from
person to person.
Should a pandemic occur, have you made a
business contingency plan? Experts say that as many as 40% of
employees could be sick at one time. Will your suppliers be able to deliver goods? What about services that they
have outsourced – are they going to be reliable?
Governments around the world have spent billions of dollars
preparing for a pandemic; buying medicines, running disaster exercises, trying to develop strategies for border
control. However, what if companies can’t continue to provide vital services such as banking, airline service or
food services. A study by Deloitte & Touche said out of 100 executives surveyed in the U.S., 2/3 had not yet
prepared or assigned anyone to be in charge of designing a plan for an Avian Flu eventuality.
contrast, businesses in Southeast Asia have made more headway, as they had to deal with SARS in 2003. The SARS
outbreak, which could be considered small, had a devastating effect nearly bring commerce in Hong Kong to a
stand still. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, they say that almost all businesses
there have some kind of Avian Flu plan in place. 60% of the companies have a plan that could be in place
immediately. Some of the plans include working from multiple sites and for employees to work out of their homes
to help prevent the spread of the disease. In Singapore during the SARS outbreak, many businesses required
temperature checks prior to allowing someone on premises.
Avian Flu outbreak in any part of the world could have dramatic results in the global supply chain. In today’s
business model, where inventories are managed in real-time, this could affect every business right down to your
neighborhood grocery store. One begins to realize the importance of advanced planning when thought of in these
can you do? Some methods to help prevent the spread of flu include canceling face-to-face meetings in favor of
teleconferencing; installing germ-killing hand washes in offices and make sure to cover coughs.
department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control have put together an
Influenza Pandemic check
list for large businesses.