Separating Fact from Fiction
Companies across the country are concerned about the implications that an H1N1 ("swine flu") outbreak can have on their employees, and organization as a whole. Not only is the virus potentially life-threatening, but it typically leaves people unable to function for several days, resulting in lost productivity and decreased profits for businesses.
On average, unscheduled absences cost employers $610 for every employee annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring the H1N1 virus in the U.S. and reports that:
- Since April 2009, 129 laboratory-confirmed pediatric H1N1 deaths have been reported to the CDC.
- Forty-eight states are reporting widespread influenza activity as of November 2009.
- Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine.
With all of the media attention and conflicting reports surrounding the H1N1 flu virus and its vaccine, many of us are left confused over what to believe. As H1N1 continues to cause illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States, it is important to stay informed about the virus and what steps can be taken to help you and your employees avoid becoming ill.
What is H1N1 and how does it spread?
Every so often, a flu virus emerges that is either new or has not circulated in many years. The novel H1N1 flu virus, formerly referred to as "swine flu," was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009 and began spreading from person-to-person across the world, in a similar manner to which regular seasonal influenza viruses spread: mainly through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza.
Sometimes people may also become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway. Pandemic simply means a world-wide ("pan") epidemic.
H1N1 has been known to cause a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. People with this virus have also reported experiencing nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
Who is at risk?
Similar in nature to the seasonal flu, the illness associated with the H1N1 virus in humans can vary from mild to severe. With the seasonal flu, certain groups of people are considered to be at a high risk for serious complications. You may have questions as to whether or not people considered to be high risk for complications from the seasonal flu are also considered to be high risk for complications from the H1N1 flu strain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with the H1N1 virus have had one or more of the medical conditions that have placed them at high risk for seasonal flu complications, including:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
In contrast to seasonal flu, H1N1 has caused greater problems and complications in people under the age of 25; to date, adults over the age of 64 are one group that does not yet appear to be at an elevated risk of H1N1-related complications. How can you protect yourself and your employees? Vaccines are the best tool we have to help prevent influenza.
A vaccine to protect against H1N1 is currently available in limited distribution to priority groups, with more doses in production. In addition to the H1N1 vaccine, the CDC is encouraging people to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine is not intended to replace the seasonal flu vaccine, but is meant to be used in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel made up of medical and public health experts, has made recommendations on who should receive the H1N1 vaccine. The groups currently recommended to receive the novel H1N1 influenza vaccine include:
- Pregnant women
- Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
- Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
- All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
- Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.
Once the demand for vaccine for these target groups has been met, the ACIP recommends that everyone from ages 25 through 64 years should receive the vaccine. Studies have indicated that the risk for infection among persons age 65 or older is less than the risk for younger age groups.
As a result, the H1N1 vaccine should be offered to people over the age of 65 once vaccine supply and demand for vaccine among younger age groups is being met. Whether you are considered to be part of a 'high risk' group or not, there are also some simple everyday steps that you can take in order to protect your health and help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like seasonal and H1N1 influenza. By educating your employees about these basic actions, you can help create a healthier work environment.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
- Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol based hand rubs, tissues, and other related items could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.
For the most up to date information about H1N1, visit h1n1.findaflushot.com or www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu. To have your company placed on a waitlist for the H1N1 vaccine visit http://h1n1.findaflushot.com/contact-us. Maxim will conduct on-site H1N1 immunizations when additional doses become available and the vaccine is available to the general public.