Flu season preparedness

  • Published
  • By Major Kimberly Woolley
  • 4th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight commander
The Center for Disease Control released guidance for employers to help control the spread of pandemic influenza and to better ensure continuity of operations. In preparation for a pandemic influenza outbreak the Homeland Security Administration predicted absenteeism rates may reach 40 percent during the peak of pandemic flu spread. Supervisors were charged with planning for this "worst case scenario" long ago.

The pandemic flu government agencies are planning for is H1N1. Pandemic influenza activity remains elevated and will soon overlap with seasonal influenza. Now is the time to act to curtail mission degradation during the winter cold and flu season.

Everyone is responsible for suggesting procedures to protect workers and ensure seamless operations. Supervisors should anticipate fear, rumors and general misinformation. They should also monitor media reports and the CDC Website www.cdc.gov, and establish a process to regularly communicate accurate disease surveillance information and policies.

The 4th Medical Group enacted a plan to allow sick members to stay home without inundating area clinics and hospitals. Everyone is responsible for knowing the details of this plan to control the spread of illness and help maintain operations.

First, supervisors can allow their active-duty members to remain at home for the first 24 hours, without being placed formally on quarters. If the member is still sick after the first 24 hours at home have the member call to request a telephone consultation. However, if a member is at high risk for complications from the flu he/she should call 722-1802 or 1-888-431-6783 and leave a telephone consultation request. A triage nurse will contact the member and offer to arrange one of the following: home care advice and remain at home for 72 hours under social isolation quarters with unit notification, an acute appointment or immediate referral to Urgent Care/Emergency Services, or return to duty. Finally, members must be fever free without the use of fever-reducing medications for 24 hours before returning to work.

Leadership at every level should have already identified key functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements of the unit's mission. Units should have a standing plan of how to continue operating despite a possibility of high and frequent absenteeism rates this winter. Offices should explore the flexibility of their policies and regulations to allow sick personnel to stay home. Challenge personnel to think creatively but still adhere to the intent of Air Force Instructions, for instance, consider the option of telecommuting. The CDC also encourages authorizing employees to stay home if they are ill, have to care for ill family members or must watch their children if schools or childcare facilities close.

People who are at high risk of having complications with H1N1 include pregnant women, children less than two-years-old (especially infants under 6 months) and those with chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. In addition, workers and family members who fall into a high risk category are usually sicker with the flu with an increased risk for death or hospitalization. These people may need to stay home longer, and will need to access health care services. Those with children should review family care plans early and verify they are viable during a pandemic outbreak. People from dual income and single parent households should realize alternative solutions are limited when faced with decisions involving the care of a sick and contagious child.

Everyone needs to consider how to conduct business differently while still carrying out the mission. Please challenge those around the office to come up with creative solutions to minimize mission impact while also supporting military families.