H1N1 Virus Danger Expected to Escalate

August 10, 2009

Businesses Should Refocus On The H1N1 Virus Threat:
Study Reveals it is More Dangerous Than Suspected

Based on new studies at the University of Wisconsin, the H1N1 virus may be more severe and dangerous than the normal seasonal flu virus and, as a result, companies should refocus their preparedness programs in time for the upcoming fall flu season.  Our earlier Alert outlined the steps that businesses should take to prepare, and those steps are even more important now.
In a fast-tracked report published recently in the journal Nature, a team of researchers, led by University of Wisconsin virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, revealed that the H1N1 virus is different from the ordinary seasonal flu in its ability to infect cells deep in the lungs where it can cause pneumonia and, in severe cases, death.
In laboratory tests on animals, Kawaoka’s team found that the H1N1 virus replicated much more efficiently in the respiratory system than seasonal flu, and it caused severe lesions in the lungs similar to those caused by other more virulent types of pandemic flu. 
According to Kawaoka, this ability to infect the lungs is a quality "frighteningly similar" to those of other pandemic viruses, notably the 1918 virus, which killed tens of millions of people at the tail end of World War I.  He also said that it is possible that the H1N1 virus could become even more pathogenic as the current pandemic runs its course and the virus evolves and acquires new features.
There are currently three approved antiviral compounds that may help prevent or treat the H1N1 virus. Unfortunately, their supply is inadequate to meet the expected demand.  The government estimates that about 120 million vaccine doses will be available to the public by October 2009, but more than 160 million people in priority groups will need vaccines. 
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these priority groups include pregnant women, health care workers, caregivers to children six months and younger, and children and young adults 6 months through 24 years of age.  A panel has also recommended that those first vaccinated should include those aged 25 through 64 who have health conditions associated with a higher risk of medical complications from influenza. 

For more information about how you can protect your employees and minimize disruptions to normal business operations, please refer to our Alert titled H1N1 Flu: What To Do From a Legal Perspective, which included recommendations such as appointing a designated flu coordinator, creating a private reporting procedure, establishing travel policies, creating at-home protocols, and encouraging preventive measures.

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