Don't panic! How to prepare your business for swine flu

With new cries of 'Death! Pandemic! No cure in sight!' appearing in the papers every day, swine flu is one of the scariest health stories to hit the headlines in recent years.

If you're trying to run a business, though, swine flu has the potential do more than just alarm: as a business owner, you have a duty to protect your employees from unnecessary risks - not to mention the financial implications on your company if your staff are all off sick.

The fear was swine flu would combine itself with the winter flu virus creating a deadly super-flu. NHS internal estimates were that 10% of the UK population could die.

Don't panic just yet, though: Smarta has spoken to some of the most senior figures in the NHS to come up with the ultimate guide to keeping your staff safe - and your business running - during the swine flu pandemic.

The background

Every 30 years or so, we experience a global flu pandemic which has the potential to kill millions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS have been on the look-out for the next one for some time and swine flu is it. The reason swine flu hit the headlines so dramatically was because the fear was the swine flu virus would combine itself with the traditional winter flu virus creating a deadly super-flu. NHS internal estimates were that 10% of the UK population could die.

Happily, this now seems less likely: swine flu is currently spreading at such an incredible rate that we should now expect it to peak in August before it gets chance to mutate and combine itself with the winter flu virus, which generally starts during the autumn.

So why worry?

The risk profile of the virus is still unknown and as such caution is crucial. Although cases in high risk groups (young children, elderly people, those with lung/liver conditions, anyone with impaired immunity) are the most likely to lead to fatalities, there have been cases where seemingly healthy people have died from the virus.  Those in cities should also be particularly vigilant: both London and Birmingham, for example, have been identified as areas of sustained person to person transmission.

How can we avoid catching it?

The virus is transmitted either if an infected person coughs or sneezes within three feet of you or by you touching infected surfaces - as such, obsessive hand washing is the single best prevention.

If you touch a surface which has been touched by someone who is infected - and think tube trains and public handrails here - try to avoid allowing the virus to come into contact with mucous membrane. This means biting your nails and scratching your eyes are a no-no - and it's a good idea to carry around anti-bacterial wipes for that occasion when you need to dig out your contact lens.

To lower the chances of staff catching it, drill them on the importance of staying clean. Be vigilant and remember the NHS' ad campaign: 'catch it, kill it, bin it'. Put anti-bacterial soaps and gels in toilets and in the kitchen and encourage staff to think of the office as a hospital - washing their hands and disinfecting whenever they enter and leave a room - and regularly in-between.

Stock up on anti-bacterial wipes for keyboards, desks and monitors, and make sure they're used liberally. Encourage them to keep anti-bacterial gel on their desks, in their bags - wherever they go, and tell them to wash and disinfect before they use anything communal - this includes the kettle, the microwave, cupboards and taps.

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