The Swine Flu and Your Business

According to the Centers for Disease Control: 

The human swine flu outbreak continues to grow in the United States and internationally. Today, CDC reports additional cases of confirmed swine influenza and a number of hospitalizations of swine flu patients. Internationally, the situation is more serious too, with additional countries reporting confirmed cases of swine flu. In response to the intensifying outbreak, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 4. A Phase 4 alert is characterized by confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause “community-level” outbreaks. The increase in the pandemic alert phase indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased. 

In short, it’s here and there is more on the way. Now, that doesn’t mean you should panic. There has been one confirmed death here in the US, that of a 23-month old child, but so far that is all. The problem is that as the infection spreads the likelihood of more serious illness and deaths will statistically increase. Mexico has closed down places where people gather—theaters and restaurants, for example—and President Obama has suggested that when students fall ill with this new form of swine flu, that their school should be closed. This is because places where people congregate are ideal for spreading disease. That goes for workplaces as well. An outbreak of disease in a business could not only harm those infected, it could also seriously cripple the business itself through loss of productivity. 

Recognize the Flu

Many people get bad upper respiratory infections—mild to moderate coughing, stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, etc.—from time to time, usually in the fall and winter months, that seem to develop over a matter of hours or days and hang on for a week or so. That is a cold, and even though it can develop into something nasty, it’s not the flu. 

The flu hits you like a brick bat. Over a very short period of time, things will go from being all sunshine and light to pain and misery. Generally speaking, what differentiates the flu is a high fever, severe aches and pains, severe fatigue and weakness that can last for 2-3 weeks, extreme exhaustion, powerful headache, hacking cough and chest congestion that can be severe. While a cold may lead to sinus or ear infections, the flu tends to hit the lungs and can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. 

Swine Flu symptoms . As far as the current strain of the swine flu is concerned, the symptoms are essentially the same as any other kind of flu. There have been some reports of diarrhea and vomiting, but since these can be caused by other things, there is really no way of knowing whether you have swine flu or just some regular, run-of-the-gutter variety of the bug. Only a lab test can tell for sure. 

Taking Care of the Flu

If you suddenly feel as though you have been hit by some unseen Hummer, go see your doctor! He will test you for the flu and if you get there within a day or so of the first symptoms, he can give you an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu that will ease your symptoms and possibly shorten the duration of the illness. Other than that, you have to treat the symptoms—decongestants, pain relievers, etc.—rest, and try hard to not infect anyone else. 

Spreading the Swine Flu

According to the CDC, the new swine flu virus appears to spread just like regular flu. The US victims had no contact with pigs, so it is very likely that it spread from human-to-human contact. People who are infected can begin spreading the infection a day before they show any symptoms and for as long as a week after the onset of symptoms. You can pick up germs:

1.      By direct contact with an infected person.

2.      By touching an object they recently touched, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

3.      By inhaling or getting airborne germs in your eyes or nose after someone coughs or sneezes. 

Protecting Yourself from Infection

Because you never know if someone who is not exhibiting symptoms is infected, and therefore contagious, you need to be proactive about protecting yourself. It doesn’t take much effort or time to stay healthy and to help keep those around you healthy, just an annual flu shot and a some good personal hygiene:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • If you cannot use a tissue, cough or sneeze into the inner side of your elbow and not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.
  • Frequent use of alcohol-based hands cleaners also helps.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people. 

Protecting Your Employees and Your Business

This is a time for education in the workplace. Keep an eye on what is going on in your area. Your local health department will have valuable information in case there is an outbreak in your vicinity. Make sure your people know what to look for, make sure they understand the importance of good hygiene and that they follow that understanding through with action. Moreover, if someone does come in looking ill, have them go to their doctor to seek treatment and follow the CDC’s advice and have them stay home. It is better for them, better for your other employees and ultimately better for your business.