A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new virus appears or emerges in the human population, causes serious illness and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks or epidemics of influenza. Seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of influenza viruses that already circulate among people, whereas pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes, by sub-types that have never circulated among people or by subtypes that have not circulated among people for a long time.
Once a new pandemic influenza virus emerges and spreads, it usually becomes established among people and moves around or circulates for many years, as do seasonal epidemics of influenza. Past pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss.
If you think this is unnecessary hype and that it won’t happen to you, your company or your employees think again. According to Keith Kartman, a sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice, pandemics are real and need to be monitored by everyone even businesses.
“Anyone business owners especially, since they are responsible for large groups of people need to be aware of the threat of a pandemic,” Kartman says. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have large surveillance programs to monitor and detect influenza activity around the world, including the emergence of possible pandemic strains of influenza virus.”
Smart Business spoke with Kartman about pandemics, the impacts of them and how a business can be prepared for any outbreak.
What would the impact of a pandemic be?
It is impossible to predict specifically how a pandemic would impact the world. The general challenges we are likely to face in a pandemic are easier for experts to predict. But, here’s what the CDC believes we can expect during an outbreak of pandemic influenza:
- Rapid worldwide spread. When a pandemic influenza virus emerges, its spread is considered inevitable. Preparedness activities should assume that the entire world population would be susceptible. Countries might, through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, delay arrival of the virus but would not be able to stop it.
- Overloaded health care systems. Because most people have little or no immunity to a pandemic virus, infection and illness rates soar. A substantial percentage of the world’s population would require some form of medical care. Nations are unlikely to have the staff, facilities, equipment and hospital beds needed to cope with large numbers of people who suddenly become ill.
- Inadequate medical supplies. The need for vaccines would likely outstrip supply. The need for antiviral drugs would also be inadequate early in a pandemic. A pandemic can create a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators and other supplies. Difficult decisions would need to be made regarding who gets antiviral drugs and vaccines.
- Economic and social disruption. Travel bans and the closing of schools and businesses and cancellations of events could have a major impact on communities and citizens. Care for sick family members and fear of exposure could result in significant worker absenteeism.
How can you plan for a pandemic?
Many scientists believe it is only a matter of time until the next influenza pandemic occurs. The federal government, states, communities and industries are taking steps to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. A pandemic is likely to be a prolonged and widespread outbreak that could require temporary changes in many areas of society, such as schools, work, transportation and other public services. An informed and prepared public can take appropriate actions to decrease their risk during a pandemic.
What should a business owner and his or her employees do in the event of a pandemic?
There are several things. You should:
- Develop preparedness plans as you would for other public health emergencies.
- Participate in and promote public health efforts in your state and community.
- Talk with your local public health officials and health care providers; they can supply information about the signs and symptoms of a specific disease outbreak.
- Implement prevention and control actions recommended by your public health officials and providers.
- Adopt practices that encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Anticipate how to function with a significant portion of the work force absent due to illness or caring for ill family members.
Why should this be on a company’s radar?
Ensuring an adequate system for alert, response and disaster management should be the basis of every national pandemic preparedness plan. Depending on the available resources, more specific preparations can be made, such as developing specific contingency plans, strengthening risk communications, investing in pandemic vaccine research and promoting domestic production of influenza vaccines.
KEITH KARTMAN is a sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.