The Washington Post has a sobering article out this morning about the expected return of swine flu (H1N1) virus in the upcoming weeks.  Indeed, the experts cited in the article basically state that it’s not a matter of "if", but "when" this second wave will hit.

While flu viruses are notoriously capricious, making any firm predictions impossible, a new round could hit the Northern Hemisphere within weeks and lead to major disruptions in schools, workplaces and hospitals, according to U.S. and international health officials.

"The virus is still around and ready to explode," said William Schaffner, an influenza expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who advises federal health officials. "We’re potentially looking at a very big mess."

And for those employers awaiting the development of a vaccine, the article suggests that the first batches may not be ready until the flu’s expected peak in October.

The first batches of swine flu vaccine are not expected to become available until mid-October, assuming studies indicate it is safe and effective. And officials have yet to answer many key questions, including how many doses will be needed. If it is two, as many suspect, it could take at least five weeks after the first shot before vaccinated people are fully protected.

For employers, thus, now is the time to review your contingency planning and finalize your policies on how you will address things such as a sick person at the workplace or mass absences for a period of time.

Late last week, the CDC released updated guidance for businesses of all types regarding the H1N1 virus. While the guidance isn’t revolutionary, it does provide some specific steps for employers to take.  Among them: 

  • Encourage sick workers to stay home and away from the workplace, and provide flexible leave policies.
  • Encourage infection control practices in the workplace by displaying posters that address and remind workers about proper hand washing, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette. These posters can be found on the Germ Stopper: Posters and Other Materials page.
  • Provide written guidance (email, etc.) on novel influenza A (H1N1) flu appropriate for the language and literacy levels of everyone in the workplace. Employers should work closely with local and state public health officials to ensure they are providing the most appropriate and up-to-date information (e.g., the CDC H1N1 Flu website).
  • Provide sufficient facilities for hand washing and alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizers (or wipes) in common workplace areas such as lobbies, corridors, and restrooms.

The next few months may be challenging, but preparation — not panic – is key to this next wave of flu that is predicted.