Thursday, August 20, 2009

US warns businesses to brace for H1N1

The federal government is urging employers to offer flexible sick leave policies as the nation braces for a second wave of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano offered guidance to businesses on how to prevent the spread of H1N1, also known as swine flu, and to prepare for a major outbreak. They stressed allowing employees who exhibit flu symptoms to go home and to stay home until at least 24 hours have passed since their fevers subsided. They also said businesses should consider eliminating policies that require a doctor’s note or other proof to justify a sick day and that employers should be prepared to operate with fewer people.

“It’s more than just a significant health issue. It has the potential to affect every aspect of our lives,’’ Locke said. “It will take Americans from every walk of life pulling together and doing our part to mount an effective response.’’

As the first pandemic in more than 40 years, it has the potential to cause massive disruptions for businesses, schools, and governments. The United States and other northern nations have been scrambling to prepare for a resurgence of the virus by stockpiling flu treatments and vaccines.

US officials said yesterday that data from tests on adults show it is safe to start trying out the new vaccine in children. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said it would soon start two trials of a Sanofi-Aventis vaccine in children ages 6 months to 17 years. US health officials said 45 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine will be on hand in mid-October, when mass vaccinations are to begin.

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