A few days ago we suggested “While it would be over-reacting to start stock-piling now, entrepreneurs should at least start researching where they might go to get private supplies of anti-virals to protect their families, their employees, and possibly even their customers”.
Things have moved quickly and since then swine flu has spread to the extent that the World Health Organisation now regards a pandemic as imminent.
If they haven’t done so already, businesses should be starting to initiate measures to protect their staff, their management and their ability to operate.
While the risk of death from swine flu currently appears low, in deciding upon a response it is worth considering:
- During the 1918 Spanish flu
pandemic it is estimated that just about everyone in the world was infected with the virus, though many didn’t develop any symptoms. As the current swine flu is new to humans there is unlikely to be any large scale resistance in the population. Governments that have stockpiled treatments for, say, 50% of their population might find they have insufficient stocks.
- Having key personnel, or many personnel, off sick is likely to have a severe short term negative impact on many businesses. This needs to be weighed up against the cost of acquiring and supplying suitable prophylaxis and treatment.
- Risk is not purely a Probability
. The risk associated with an event is the probability of that event happening multiplied by the impact or consequences. A low probability of death is still a significant risk, because the impact (i.e. death) is so severe. So, whereas the chances of dying from swine flu appear low it is still possible to die from it and therefore many will consider it worthwhile to take mitigating steps. - Pandemics come in waves, with latter waves often proving more lethal. - Once a pandemic takes hold, and if it proves to be lethal, supplies of suitable medication are going to be both extremely difficult to obtain and extremely expensive. - It is up to individual decision makers to determine the appropriate measures in their particular case. However, many might feel more comfortable taking responsibility for themselves rather than relying 100% on their government – if the government cocks it up then it will be too late.
- Treatments currently effective against the new H1N1 swine flu strain are Tamiflu (oseltamivir
) and Relenza (zanamivir
A while ago the New Scientist produced a useful guide on protective measures to take in case of a flu pandemic. This was based on the bird flu scare but much, if not all, of its suggestions are equally relevant now.
They have kindly allowed us to reproduce it here and have also published a more recent, though less helpful, article.