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Since the pandemic was declared on June 11, 2009 until the end of July, over 183,000 people worldwide have been infected with swine flu, including 1,140 deaths. Companies should use the currently mild course of the pandemic to prepare comprehensively for a potentially serious course in winter. Prof. Dr. Dirk-Matthias Rose, director of the IAS Institute for Occupational and Social Hygiene Foundation in Karlsruhe.

IAS Institute for Occupational and Social Hygiene Foundation Press Office Ms. Ariane Sodtke Steinhäuserstraße 19 76135 Karlsruhe

Prof. Dr. Rose, how dangerous is the new flu?

Rose: At the moment, the death rate from the new flu is even lower than from the normal flu. Thank God. However, the virus is currently changing all the time. For this reason, the residual risk remains that this variable virus will become more virulent and therefore more aggressive with the start of the normal flu season in winter.

For which symptoms should I go to the doctor as a precaution?

Rose: The signs are usually very similar to normal flu, i.e. sudden high fever, dry, tickly cough, muscle and body aches and headaches. In addition, there may be a sore throat, runny nose or nausea. It is best to consult your doctor by phone and do not sit in the waiting room, so other patients will not be infected. For mild complaints, rest and symptomatic therapy is currently sufficient.

When do I know that I am infected?

Rose: It is believed that, similar to seasonal flu, the time between infection and outbreak is one to four days. The ability to infect others can already exist on the day before the onset of symptoms and last for up to a week.

What can I personally do to protect myself from infection?

Rose: The top priority are still hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing with soap for 20 to 30 seconds and keeping hands away from the face, as viruses can easily penetrate the organism through the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose. Regular ventilation of closed rooms also reduces the risk of infection. In addition, it is better to avoid large crowds at the moment.

What danger does a pandemic pose for companies and how can they protect themselves from it?

Rose: The greatest danger is that a large part of the workforce, an estimated 25 percent, will stay away from work, rendering the company unable to act. For this reason, I recommend companies use a crisis plan that is tailored to their needs. As a first step, this includes the formation of a crisis management team, which, if available, also includes a company doctor. The crisis team, together with the company management, determines which employees and processes are necessary to maintain the company's ability to act. Then it should be determined which of these employees could work from home in an emergency. For example, does he have a laptop with access to the company network? Then companies should check which business trips are absolutely necessary and which customer contacts could be maintained through video or telephone conferences. This can significantly reduce the risk of infection. In addition, the crisis team initiates further measures appropriate to the situation, such as B. Cancellation of events, disinfection stations in factory canteens or wearing respiratory masks.

What are the reasons for employees not showing up for work?

Rose: There are three reasons for this: Firstly, the employees themselves have the new flu. Second, they care for sick relatives, or third, they are afraid of infection. Companies can counter the latter case with a good information policy and inform employees promptly and comprehensibly about the new flu, the possibility of infection and preventive measures.

How can companies prepare that do not have contingency plans?

Rose: These companies should use the publicly available sources of information to prepare as best they can for the consequences of the spread of swine flu. Companies can download an influenza pandemic plan from the website of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Social Affairs. The IAS group also supports companies with InPaRisKO, the influenza pandemic risk and crisis management for organizations. Via the associated internet connection www.inparisko.de, customers can view the current figures for all illnesses per 100,000 inhabitants in the members' area. From this it can be deduced in which areas a significantly increased risk of infection is to be expected. Companies can then, for example, severely restrict or prohibit business trips to this region.

The new flu vaccine is expected in the fall. Do you advise companies to vaccinate their entire workforce?

Rose: The state plans to first vaccinate all people who are necessary to maintain public order and the health system, such as the police or hospital staff. In addition, the vaccine is used in so-called risk groups, such as pregnant women or immunocompromised people. Sufficient vaccine will not be available for companies to vaccinate their workforce until a later date.

Safety officer 09 | 2009

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