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When Pandemonium Strikes Will Businesses Be Forces To Close Their Doors?

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Most companies state that their people are their biggest asset, however most Business Continuity plans emphasize on key processes instead of key people. In the case of a Pandemic, will your business be prepared?

When pandemonium strikes will businesses be forces to close their doors?

March 6, 2007


Possibilities are all around us, possibilities for great things large and small. The possibility that we will find the one product that makes it all possible, that nitch in the market. Or the possibility that a rather benign flu passing through the bird population will mutate and infect humans with a strain of virus that is virtually unknown and we have no immunity against. When a pandemic hits, what will businesses do to safeguard their interest, protect their employees and insure production in a world that is literally closing it's doors?

Over the past three years the Avian flu (H5N1) has killed millions of domestic and wild foul, and has transferred to and killed over 200 people in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and China.

Pandemic influenza is caused when a virus that is dramatically different than has previously circulated mutates into a form that is infectious to humans. There are many different subtypes of Influenza or "flu" viruses. The subtypes differ based upon certain proteins on the surface of the virus (the hemagglutinin or "HA" protein and the neuraminidase or the "NA" protein). When an abrupt and major change in influenza A virus due to antigenic shift occurs, new combinations of the HA and/or NA proteins appear on the surface of the virus. These changes results in a new influenza A virus subtype, it is extremely difficult for human bodies to fight these new viruses due to the lack of immunologic resistance to the surface proteins of these viruses.

Flu is a common term in our vocabulary today; it is used as a catch phrase to describe a myriad of symptoms ranging from fever, head and body aches, nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. This common term is not usually associated with hospitalization and death, however during the 20th century several new volatile influenza viruses have emerged, including three pandemics, which spread around the world within a year of being detected.

H5N1 has been affecting a growing list of bird species; however it has also begun to infect several mammalian species as well, such as tigers, leopards, pigs and in laboratory experiments transmission had been observed in domestic cats. These findings suggest that the geographic and host range of H5N1 is expanding.

So what is a pandemic, and why should today's corporations be concerned?

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes a pandemic as:

Ð'... 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 subtypes that have never circulated among people, or by subtypes that have not circulated among people for a long time. Past pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss.

Pandemics have been irregular and unpredictable in our history; however they have all been associated with substantial morbidity, mortality and economic cost. The three pandemics that developed during the 20th century were identified as:

Ð'* 1918-19, "Spanish flu," [A (H1N1)], caused the highest number of known influenza deaths. (However, the actual influenza virus subtype was not detected in the 1918-19 pandemic). More than 500,000 people died in the United States, and up to 50 million people may have died worldwide. Many people died within the first few days after infection, and others died of secondary complications. Nearly half of those who died were young, healthy adults. Influenza A (H1N1) viruses still circulate today after being introduced again into the human population in 1977.

Ð'* 1957-58, "Asian flu," [A (H2N2)], caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.

Ð'* 1968-69, "Hong Kong flu," [A (H3N2)], caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses still circulate today.

Both the 1957-58 and 1968-69 pandemics were caused by viruses containing a combination of genes from a human influenza virus and an avian influenza virus. The 1918-19 pandemic virus appears to have an avian origin, all spread globally within a year of being detected. Not surprising when you consider that a simple sneeze spreads one-hundred thousand virus partials thirty feet into the air at a speed of 80 miles per hour. Add to this that the average virus can live in the air for 24 hours and on a hard surface for more than forty-eight. Using those facts, it can be surmised that a single person in a crowded venue such as a train station or a movie theater could infect hundreds of others.

Still what does this mean to today's businesses?

The WHO has developed a global influenza preparedness plan, which defines the stages of a pandemic, outlines the role of WHO, and makes recommendations for national measures before and during a pandemic. The phases are:

Interpandemic period

Phase 1 : No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. An influenza virus subtype that has caused human infection may be present in animals. If present in animals, the risk of human infection or disease is considered to be low.

Phase 2 : No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. However, a circulating animal influenza virus subtype poses a substantial risk of human disease.

Pandemic alert period

Phase 3 : Human infection(s) with a new subtype, but no human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.

Phase 4 : Small cluster(s) with limited human-to-human transmission but spread is highly localized, suggesting that the virus is not well



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