Scientists, Doctors and Governments All Agree an Influenza Pandemic IS Overdue and Imminent; Managers Must Get Their Businesses Prepared Without Delay

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An influenza pandemic is coming, all the experts agree it's now overdue. Governments are urging executives to get their businesses prepared, yet none are able to give any practical advice on exactly what they need to do.

Many business managers think that because the hype surrounding Bird Flu seems to have has eased, it means the threat no longer exists. The fact is an Avian Influenza pandemic remains a very real threat.

Despite an apparent 'lull' in activity (reported or otherwise) in recent months, pandemic influenza, in particular Bird Flu remains with WHO at Yellow Alert Status (3 of 6) meaning "No or very limited human-to-human transmission".

There should be no disillusionment, at some point, be it in months or in a decade, after more 'false starts' and lulls, the virus will successfully mutate to an infectious type at a place and time when effective containment is not forthcoming. If the strain is infectious enough and there are enough transient people in the vicinity to harbour it, the ingredients will be present and a global pandemic event will take place.

Fortunately the worst case scenario is the least most likely to transpire. That is for the virus to mutate into a highly contagious strain, and for it to kill over 50% of people it infects (as is the case with the current bird-to-human only cases). The consequences of this would be catastrophic and the survivors would have to get used to a very different world. Ironically it is this doomsday approach which has prevented many businesses from taking any preventative steps whatsoever to prepare themselves. What would be the point?

In fact the most likely scenario is not doomsday at all, and there is definitely a point to preparing. The most likely scenario will be far less devastating.

Whilst it is true that virtually every person on the planet will at some point contract the pandemic flu, some 50% of those infected will not even know they have it, 40% will suffer from only mild discomfort (as with the 'normal' seasonal influenza), and only a small percentage of the rest who suffer severe discomfort will succumb to it, leading to perhaps at most a 2% to 3% fatality rate. This has been the case for previous pandemics in history such as the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, considered the worst so far. Additionally, the pandemic medical research and technology race-against-time we are witnessing may lessen those numbers still further.

Although a 2% to 3% fatality rate is still catastrophic, it will not fundamentally alter our society. In quantative terms, a company of 1000 people could expect to lose 20 to 30 staff over the 18 month duration of the pandemic, probably less of a loss in number terms than is the normal staff turnover rate. These relatively small numbers however disguise the crippling effects an outbreak would have on business, as plans must be in place to carry operations through weeks or months with a 50% or more personnel absenteeism rate, with even healthy staff off work due to fear, home quarantine and caring for others.

Based on pandemic events throughout history, most experts agree that the next pandemic will last approximately 18 months and come in three distinct waves. Human nature is such that at the commencement of the pandemic, and to a lesser extent on commencement of each subsequent wave, fear and panic will grip society with most isolating themselves and their families from close contact with other members of the public. This 'over-reaction' was evidenced in the cities affected by the SARS outbreak of 2003, with many travellers reporting prejudices against them worldwide if it was known they had been in an infected area. As tragic as it was only 895 people died from SARS, far less than most of the other scourges which plague our modern society, medical or otherwise.

With a global pandemic looming, even most governments' initial reaction will be equally disproportionate with for example, whole floors of offices being ordered closed for controlled disinfection when only single (suspect) cases occur within them.

Within a relatively short period however the hype and fear will subside as the public becomes educated and the actual fatality rate of the virus strain becomes clear. Soon most will want to come out of isolation and try to resume a sense of normality in their lives. Governments would need to loosen controls as resources would not be able to cope for long if sustained at those initial levels. Businesses will be permitted to do their own clean up and people would become (cautiously) accustomed to living in a pandemic, despite high levels of sickness around them and the regulatory controls which will be in place.

The obvious picture which emerges from this is that provided a business can educate its staff on what to expect, how to protect themselves, and satisfy them that it has taken appropriate measures to protect them and their families, those staff are far more likely to return to the workplace quickly. The reality is that an office or any other enclosed working environment can and should be made into the safest place for staff to be outside of the home.

If the methods used to do this are communicated to staff ahead of time, the business will continue to operate when others around them fall over.

In conclusion, businesses which still take the pandemic threat seriously and allocate funds and resources into preventative measures will survive or even thrive during and following a global pandemic. A company needs to win the main board support it needs to do just this, and show it's shareholders, staff, clients, suppliers and the public at large its commitment to its operational continuity.

Bird Flu D-I-Y eManual for Business Preparedness and Survival has assisted thousands of business get prepared for an influenza pandemic such as Bird Flu. Business managers are strongly advised to get their business prepared without delay.


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