The 2009 version of the Swine Flu has already hit the U.S., and it looks like it could be a bad outbreak. There have already been more than 300 deaths among the 1,600 reported cases in Mexico, and cases of the Flu will undoubtedly turn up in more U.S. States over the next several days. Here are some facts about the Flu, pandemics and contagious diseases in general that may help you and your business better prepare for a serious outbreak:
Pandemics are defined as epidemics or outbreaks in humans of infectious diseases that have the ability to spread rapidly over large areas, possibly worldwide. Several pandemics have occurred throughout history and experts predict that we will experience at least one pandemic outbreak in this century. Although avian flu viruses are currently the most likely disease vector to cause a pandemic, in reality any highly infectious drug resistant disease could lead to a pandemic outbreak.
So how can Flu viruses spread? The most insidious way for the flu virus to spread is through the air in the form of “droplets”. When persons with the flu cough or sneeze into the air, large and very small droplets of liquid filled with virus travel through the air and can easily make their way into lungs or onto hands. Large droplets generally do not travel more than six feet but small “micro-droplets” can float through the air for some time and travel greater distances. Flu virus can also enter your body through your digestive system or eyes. If there is flu virus on your hands or food and you put them in your mouth, you can get the flu. If you have flu virus on your hands and you rub your eyes or nose, you can get the flu. So, what can you do to protect yourself from getting the flu or giving it to others?
The best thing you can do, even though it is a pain, is wash your hands. I mean wash your hands each time before you touch anything and put it in your mouth, or before you rub your eyes. Also, I wouldn’t eat food that has been sitting uncovered around where people have been coughing or sneezing.
Another thing you can do that really helps is wear a face mask. Even though individual viruses are small enough to go right through the pores in a normal face mask, it is not true that you get the flu from individual viruses; you get the flu from droplets of moisture that contain and protect thousands of virus cells. So if you want to keep from getting the flu, wear a mask. If you have the flu and don’t want to give it to others, wear a mask and cover your face when you cough or sneeze.
There are also a number of different things that can kill microorganisms like flu viruses. Ultra violet radiation, such as direct sunlight, kills microorganisms almost instantly. Also, Microorganisms die quickly when they come in contact with hard, smooth, dry surfaces. For example, counter tops or glass surfaces or plastic objects won’t support microorganisms as long as there is no moisture or grease on the surfaces to protect the cells. Microorganisms also cannot exist in freely flowing water. And finally, microorganisms can be killed or removed by the use of soaps and other chemical cleaners such as hand sanitizing lotions or disinfectant sprays.
So how do you protect your business from the flu? One way is to implement the advice above. When the flu is rampant in the community, protect yourself when you are in close public areas such as grocery stores, automobiles, airplanes or malls. You should also remember that you can be infectious 24 hours before symptoms appear and you will continue to be contagious for about seven days after symptoms do appear. So if you know you have been in contact with someone with the Flu, or if you are feeling ill yourself, stay away from other people as much as you possibly can. Have your employees do any work remotely that they can. If they can VPN into the network securely or use the telephone and work from home, have them do so. If you are a financial institution, consider closing or restricting access to the lobby and doing as much business as possible via the drive up windows. Insist that employees that have the flu stay home. No matter how important an employee is to the business, find some way to work around them or use their services remotely. And finally, make sure that your business has good written operating procedures in place, and that your employees cross train with each other on a regular basis. This will be a real help in times of great absenteeism.