Employers, Educators Urged to Plan Now for H1N1 Flu

As Americans return to school and work, federal officials are projecting a spike in H1N1 cases-the government has issued new guidance for employers and educators in hopes of stemming the tide.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is joining other federal agencies in gearing up for this year's complicated flu season, issuing guidance for educators and action plans for employers. Although it is not known whether the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will cause more illness or more severe illness in the coming months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone be prepared for it.

Beyond the usual--and important--advice to encourage frequent hand-washing, routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, staying home when sick, and vaccination against both flu strains, HHS and the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security are asking employers to make sure their leave policies are flexible and can accommodate such situations as workers having to stay home with ill family members or if their children's schools are closed. Employers also might cancel nonessential face-to-face meetings and travel and allow employees at higher risk for flu complications to work from home, the guidance recommends.

Another sector where flu can be spread easily is the nation's schools, colleges, and universities; even more worrying, the H1N1 virus appears to disproportionately affect younger Americans, so this population is slated to be one of the top priority groups to receive H1N1 vaccination. HHS is using social media to help get critical information on prevention and vaccination out to students. The CDC will be closely monitoring this sector for outbreaks and again is urging commonsense prevention measures, such as covering coughs and sneezes and separating sick patients from those who are well as soon as possible.

In other flu news, the government is forecasting that initially, only limited supplies of a new H1N1 vaccine (currently being tested in clinical trials) will be available by mid-October; thus, higher-risk populations will need to get the expected 2-dose series (to be administered 4 weeks apart) first. As of August 27, 2009, the CDC reports 8843 hospitalized cases of H1N1 and 556 deaths from the illness. For the latest information, including guidance for clinicians, visit www.flu.gov.

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