For Immediate Release
September 8, 2009

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

Kansas businesses encouraged to prepare for 2009 H1N1 virus

Some Kansas businesses may have felt the effects of the H1N1 virus this spring and summer, and now they’re being asked to prepare for the potential impact the virus may have as we move into the fall and winter flu season.

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, State Health Officer and Director of Health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) released a letter to Kansas businesses providing guidance and asking for their assistance in limiting the spread of the 2009 H1N1 virus this fall and winter.

“Businesses across Kansas will play an important role in helping us limit the spread of the virus in the state,” said Dr. Eberhart-Phillips.  “We can’t say for sure what will happen in Kansas, but as we move into the fall and winter flu season it is time for businesses and employers to prepare.  We are fortunate that so far the disease has been relatively mild, but the number of cases of disease in the southern hemisphere has far exceeded normal seasonal flu levels.” 

Recommended actions for businesses will depend upon the severity of disease in coming months. KDHE is watching the situation in Kansas closely, and will advise if changes are needed.  For now, under current flu conditions, these are the recommendations for businesses from KDHE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Sick employees should stay home. People with symptoms of flu-like illness should stay home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever.

Sick employees at work should be advised to go home. Employees who appear to have a flu-like illness upon arrival, or who become sick during the work day, should be promptly separated from others and sent home.  Do not require a doctor’s statement from sick employees, as doctors’ offices and emergency rooms may be overwhelmed. Cases of mild disease do not need to see a doctor, but still should self-isolate.  We will all need to help reduce the load on our healthcare system so people who truly need care can access services. 

Encourage your employees to wash their hands often. Instruct employees to wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after coughing or sneezing.

Encourage your employees to cover their coughs and sneezes. Communicate the importance of covering coughs and sneezes, and provide tissues and no-touch wastebaskets.

Clean surfaces and items that are more likely to have frequent hand contact. Clean surfaces that are frequently touched with cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas. Additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended.

Encourage employees to get vaccinated. Encourage employees to get vaccinated for seasonal flu, and suggest that employees at higher risk for flu complications get vaccinated for 2009 H1N1 flu when vaccines are available to them.

Protect employees who are at higher risk for complications of flu. Employees at higher risk for complications of flu, such as pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and asthma, should check with their health care provider promptly if they become sick. Encourage these employees to get vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu as recommended when vaccines are available. Early treatment with antiviral medications is very important for people at higher risk for flu complications because it can prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

Prepare for increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members and plan ways for essential business functions to continue. Cross-train staff to perform essential functions so that business operations can continue.

Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps. Advise workers to check for signs of flu-like illness before traveling, to notify their supervisor, and stay home if they are sick. Tell employees who are traveling how to seek health care if they become sick enough on the road to require care. If employees become sick during travel, they should stay in their hotel room until their fever has resolved for at least 24 hours, unless they are seeking medical care.

Prepare for the possibility of school dismissals or temporary closure of child care programs. Allow workers to stay home to take care of their children if schools are dismissed or child care programs are closed. Encourage your employees with children to plan for child care alternatives if possible.  Employees may need to take care of sick family members also. 

Additional information for businesses is available at www.kdheks.gov in the H1N1 section by clicking on Employers and the Workplace.

The symptoms of infection with the pandemic H1N1 virus are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever greater than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting.
 
There is no vaccine available yet to protect against the pandemic H1N1 virus, but there are treatments that can shorten the course of illness in severe cases, once the infection is diagnosed.

KDHE is no longer accepting specimens from everyone who sees a doctor with symptoms.  In non-hospitalized cases, confirmatory testing does not affect treatment and advice given to patients by health care providers.  People who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids so that they can recover without spreading the virus to others.

As with any influenza virus, individuals are encouraged to take the following steps to reduce spread:

KDHE has established a phone number for concerned Kansans to call with questions about the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus.  The toll-free number is 1-877-427-7317.  Operators will be available to answer questions from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Persons calling will be directed to press “1” on their touch-tone phone to be directed to an operator who can answer questions.

Kansans with questions about the virus can email H1N1fluinfo@kdheks.gov.  Information is also available from KDHE at www.kdheks.gov.

Note to Editors/Reporters: The letter to Kansas businesses referenced in the beginning on this release is available at www.kdheks.gov/H1N1 under the “Employers and the Workplace” link.  The document is titled: Message to Employers from the State Health Officer.