Preparing for a Pandemic: Lessons From A(H1N1)
- Deborah R. Roy (L.L. Bean)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- June 2011
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 44 - 49
- 2011. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 30 since 2007
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In March 2009, Mexican authorities begin to notice an increase in "influenza-like-illness." On April 12, a 39-year-old woman suffering from an acute respiratory illness dies after 5 days of hospital treatment. Another death occurs at the same hospital a few days later. On April 23, U.S. public health of-ficials announce that seven people in California and Texas have been diagnosed with and are recovered from a flu virus known as H1N1. At this point, it is unclear whether the U.S. and Mexican cases are related.
On Sunday, April 26, the U.S. declares a health emergency after the confirmation of 20 cases, including eight students in New York who had traveled to Mexico. Alerts are sent by National Safety Council and CDC to the smart phones of any employer representative in their networks. The next day, World Health Organization (WHO) raises the pandemic alert level from 3 to 4 on a scale of 6 (Figure 1), meaning verified human-to-human spread of a virus that can cause "community-level out-breaks" (WHO, Chronology). Phase 4 signals a "significant increase in risk of a pandemic."
Many U.S.-based corporations start reviewing their written business continuity plans. Most of these plans were written or revised a few years ago based on the threat of avian influenza in Asia or threat of a terrorism event such as anthrax after Sept. 11, not Influenza A virus (then called swine flu). By April 29, the first confirmed H1N1 death in the U.S. is a 23-month-old Mexican toddler in Texas. The virus has spread to five continents in the world, including a case in Spain of a person who had not been to Mexico.
WHO declares Phase 5, which means that per-son-to-person spread is into at least two countries in one WHO region (WHO, Chronology). This is a signal that a pandemic is imminent and time to finalize plans is short. U.S.-based companies start to restrict travel to Mexico, and put other procedures in place to protect their employees.
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