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U.S. Sets Swine-Flu Planning Guidelines
WASHINGTON -- The government unveiled updated planning guidelines Wednesday for non-health-care employers in the event of an anticipated increase in swine-flu cases, emphasizing the need to prepare for the potential that work-place absences could skyrocket as outbreaks of the disease increase this fall and winter.
Obama administration officials said employers should play a leading role in protecting the health of workers and their business operations from the H1N1 influenza virus, the so-called "swine flu," to limit the spread of the disease and its impact on the nation's already ailing economy.
The season is expected to begin around October and reach its height in February.
Among other steps, officials recommended that employers consider more flexible work environments, prioritize the most vital business functions and cross-train workers to carry them out, and develop plans to send workers home if they exhibit symptoms.
Officials also said employers should study absentee records from past flu seasons, so they can be ready for an outbreak that resembles the seasonal flu, or one that is dramatically greater. They said planning should envision multiple levels of absenteeism, because influenza is so highly unpredictable.
The H1N1 flu strain, first detected four months ago, never took the summer lull that public-health officials had anticipated, contributing to some concerns that this coming season's outbreak could be severe. Still, the impact thus far has been relatively mild, even when compared to normal seasonal flu.
"We already face much economic uncertainty," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. "A flu outbreak is a very scary prospect."
He was joined at a news conference in Washington by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The new guidance comes on the heels of news that only about 45 million doses of a vaccine will be available from manufacturers by mid-October, after the government had initially projected about 120 million would be ready by that point. Now officials hope to hit the 120 million mark by mid-November.