With U.S. officials confirming the first swine flu attributed death in the U.S. yesterday and the number of U.S. reported cases expected to top 100 today, health care providers and organizations are initiating their pandemic response plans to help their organizations, people, patients and communities respond to the rapidly spreading epidemic.
Whether or not the swine flu outbreak reaches the level of an official pandemic, official reports reflect a legitimate need for concern. According to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), victims of the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection already have been reported in 10 states, and the number of people known to be infected with the 2009 H1N1 influenza strain grew to 91 in the U.S. as of Wednesday. That number includes the first U.S. swine flu fatality: a 22-month-old child from Mexico who died of the illness Monday at a Houston, Texas hospital while visiting the United States. While swine flu victims have been reported in more than 11 countries, the majority of the incidents of the disease and deaths as of Wednesday morning had occurred in Mexico. Alarm that the outbreak will reach pandemic proportions continues to grow.
In response to the expanding crisis, the CDC yesterday released updated interim guidance on the use of antiviral agents for treatment and chemoprophylaxis of patients with confirmed, probable or suspected swine influenza virus infection and their close contacts. This guidance is only part of a host of growing resources for health care providers and other parties posted at http://www.pandemicflu.gov, the website founded by the U.S government to provide one-stop access to U.S. Government swine, avian and pandemic flu information. The website links to a growing list of special guidance provided by the CDC and other organizations for health care organizations and providers, public officials, schools, businesses, the public and others. Health care providers and other concerned parties should check this site regularly for updates about the latest guidance for responding to and treating swine flu.
Health care providers, schools, government agencies and others concerned about preparing to cope with pandemic or other infectious disease challenges also may want to review the guidance for health care providers and public health officials as health care providers, employers, and public entities contained in the pandemic and privacy planning workshop materials “Planning for the Pandemic” authored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer available at http://www.cynthiastamer.com/documents/speeches/20070530%20Pan%20Flu%20Workplace%20Privacy%20Issues%20Final%20Merged.pdf.
Health care providers also should educate employees, patients and the public about the steps they should take to help minimize their risk of contracting the disease. While the CDC says getting employees and their families to get a flu shot remains the best defense against a flu outbreak, it also says getting individuals to consistently practice good health habits like covering a cough and washing hands also is another important key to prevent the spread of germs and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu. Health care providers, employers, public officials and others should encourage patients, employees and their families and others to take the following steps and to coach others they know to do so as well:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from catching your illness. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Clean your hands to protect yourself from germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
To help promote this message, health care providers, public officials and businesses may want to download and circulate some of the many free resources published by the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm.
Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting health care providers, public agencies, schools, businesses and others employers with these and other health care, workforce, crisis preparedness and response and related matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, , please contact Ms. Stamer at firstname.lastname@example.org, (214) 270-2402. For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and to access some of her publications, see www.cynthiastamer.com or www.cttlegal.com.