MONDAY, Sept. 14, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- With cases of H1N1 swine flu continuing to rise, U.S. health officials on Monday urged small businesses to prepare now to keep their shops running if the flu season turns severe.
"We need to make sure that operations and businesses continue on even as we go through the flu season," Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, said during an afternoon news conference.
The planning needs to start now, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the Influenza Division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Plan now to prepare for the impact of influenza this fall and winter," he said.
Jernigan advised businesses to prepare for two different scenarios -- first if the H1N1 flu remains as mild as it has so far, and second if the virus should change and illness becomes more severe.
"Another key step for small businesses is to protect your workforce," Jernigan said. People should be encouraged to stay home if they are sick and not return to work until their fever has subsided for a day without using fever-reducing medication, he said.
"For most people that is three to five days away from work," Jernigan said. "Some small businesses will have to change their leave practices, but we think that's a good thing for this year."
Small businesses also need to take steps to maintain the continuity of operations, Jernigan said. "That means keeping your business going even during high levels of absenteeism," he said.
Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said "being prepared for H1N1 is just part of good business."
"Having a plan is critical," she said at the news conference. "For small businesses, even having employees out for a few days can be a health concern and a bottom-line concern," she said.
Although the H1N1 flu tends to target children and young adults, small businesses may find themselves short on employees who have to stay home to care for someone with the flu.
According to the guidelines issued Monday, a small business plan should include the designation of a workplace coordinator responsible for H1N1 issues. The plan should also:
- Encourage sick workers to stay at home without fear of reprisal.
- Find ways for workers to work from home.
- Promote personal hygiene, such as frequent handwashing.
- Encourage workers to get a seasonal flu shot.
- Encourage workers to get the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.
- Provide workers with information on flu risk factors.
If an employee does become sick at work, the employee should be moved away from other workers to limit infection until the worker can go home, according to the plan.
The H1N1 guidelines for small businesses are one of several guidelines issued by the U.S. government in recent weeks. Others included guidelines for schools, day-care centers, health-care workers and large businesses.
For more on H1N1 swine flu, visit Flu.gov.