Swine influenza is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza viruses. There is no evidence to show that swine influenza can be transmitted through food. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is concerned that the new H1N1 flu virus could result in a particularly severe flu season this year. Vaccines are the best tool we have to prevent influenza. The CDC hopes that people will be vaccinated against seasonal influenza as soon as vaccines become available at their doctor’s offices and in their communities (this may be as early as August for some). The seasonal flu vaccine is unlikely to provide protection against novel H1N1 influenza. However a novel H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and may be ready for the public in the fall. The novel H1N1 vaccine is not intended to replace the seasonal flu vaccine – it is intended to be used along with seasonal flu vaccine.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel of medical and public health experts, met July 29, 2009, to make recommendations on who should receive the new H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available. While some issues are still unknown, such as how severe the virus will be during the fall and winter months, the ACIP considered several factors, including current disease patterns; populations most at-risk for severe illness based on current trends in illness, hospitalizations and deaths; how much vaccine is expected to be available; and the timing of vaccine availability.
The groups recommended to receive the novel H1N1 influenza vaccine include:
- Pregnant women because they are at higher risk of complications and can potentially provide protection to infants who cannot be vaccinated; ||
- Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age because younger infants are at higher risk of influenza-related complications and cannot be vaccinated. Vaccination of those in close contact with infants less than 6 months old might help protect infants by “cocooning” them from the virus;
- Health care and emergency medical services personnel because infections among health care workers have been reported and this can be a potential source of infection for vulnerable patients. Also, increased absenteeism in this population could reduce health care system capacity;
- All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
Children from 6 months through 18 years of age because many cases of novel H1N1 influenza have occurred in children and they are in close contact with each other in school and day care settings, which increases the likelihood of disease spread, and
Young adults 19 through 24 years of age because many cases of novel H1N1 influenza have occurred in these healthy young adults and they often live, work, and study in close proximity, and they are a frequently mobile population; and,
- Persons ages 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.
A shortage of novel H1N1 vaccine is not expected, however, flu vaccine availability and demand can be unpredictable and there is some possibility that initially, the vaccine will be available in limited quantities. Therefore, the ACIP also made recommendations regarding which people within the groups listed above should be prioritized if the vaccine is initially available in extremely limited quantities. For more information see the CDC press release CDC Advisors Make Recommendations for Use of Vaccine Against Novel H1N1
According to the U.S. government’s and the United Nation’s health agencies, an influenza pandemic is statistically likely to occur in the near future. Such an event has the potential to produce a substantial rise in illness and death among the world’s population, to overwhelm our health care systems, and to have potentially catastrophic effects on business and commerce.
Implementing a Plan
Once a pandemic occurs, it is too late for a business to create and implement an effective response plan, so developing a plan in advance will be critical for companies, and potentially critical for the containment of the advancing pandemic. No one can predict when an influenza pandemic will occur; only that it will.
Situations and recommendations will change depending on the strength and strain of the influenza virus, the availability of vaccinations, and the success rate of antiviral medication. There are many resources available, and we suggest that you visit the following Web sites:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- www.flu.gov (Know What to Do about the Flu)
- Department of Health and Human Services
- U. S. Food and Drug Administration
- U. S. Chamber of Commerce
- Your local Department of Public Health