As the disease spread has continued in the US and across the globe the level of concern rises and falls (almost as much as the US stock market!). I have gotten numerous questions about severity, concern and the appropriate level of preparation.
- Why all the concern when the severity level outside Mexico is so low?
- Are we simply concerned due to the rapid spread of the virus?
- As many plans call for use of antivirals and they currently work on the current virus, what is the big deal? After all, we have medications we can use.
All great questions – Lets stop and look at where we are first of all. As of 2 May, 1800 GMT, WHO reports 15 countries with H1N1 outside of North America. Mexico reporting 397 cases with 16 deaths. In the US, CDC is reporting 160 cases and one death (Mexican toddler treated in Texas) in 21 states. Concerned yes you say, but why all of the angst?
The WHO pandemic levels are about the spread of a communicable disease throughout the world, not of the severity. Severity is likely to vary country by country for many reasons. The important thing to remember is this virus is highly unpredictable. They change, they mutate. As they spread from person to person, community-to-community, country-to-country, they could acquire genetic materials that would make them more deadly. Alas, we don’t know what “it” (H1N1) is going to do! There is no “barcode” on the virus that says “no worries” or “ I am like 1918.” No one knows for sure – many good minds are spending lots of time on this one!
Medications Are Available Today
Indeed the circulating H1N1 is susceptible to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Consequently these two neuraminidase inhibitors will likely be used extensively to control the outbreak until a vaccine is available. This points up two concerns:
- Availability of sufficient medications to treat those exposed or ill with the illness globally.
- Extended use of the antiviral drugs will undoubtedly lead to the selection of drug resistant influenza virus mutants. This is not an immediate concern but one that will surface with widespread use.
What To Do?
There is a lot of rhetoric about planning for the worse and hoping for the best. Frankly, most emergency managers or BCP professional don’t truly plan for the worse, they plan for what is the most likely. A big difference I might say. So what should you do?
A prudent planner will continue to:
- Refine and mature the organizations pandemic plan. Answer all of those questions you didn’t when your first wrote the plan a few years ago. (Do I pay staff, buy PPE, etc.)
- Build networks for accurate and timely information.
- Build relationships with key government entities especially the Department of Public Health in your county who can run your life in a public health emergency.
- Educate staff on good health hygiene and keep it up. This is helpful for reduction of illness of all types including seasonal flu.
- Refine illness reporting in your company. Make sure you can determine in a timely manner whether or not the illness is impacting your organization.
- Communicate, communicate, and do it some more!
We need to continue our work and pay very close attention to the Southern Hemisphere, as their flu season will begin in the next month. Our poor sisters and brothers in the South are likely to get hit with a big punch. We need to watch very closely and keep planning.