Pandemic preparedness should play a key part in preparing for the 2019 flu season. With the flu’s ability to mutate, experts believe the next pandemic may be a flu variant.

According to the CDC, influenza viruses have the capacity to mutate and it’s possible that variant viruses may change such that they infect people more easily and spread quickly from person-to-person. That’s why when risk managers and emergency preparedness managers draft continuity plans, they should be considering the business impact of a flu pandemic.

Linking Flus To Pandemics

A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak or spread of a disease outside its original area of contagion. The flu is one of the most well-known causes of both pandemics and epidemics. As the World Health Organization explains, “An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity.”

Public health expert Meg Nash, MPH, said that the flu is a top candidate for causing pandemics and that individual cases generally arise between October and November, but peak in February and end in May.

“People spend all their time inside at work and school, and it’s easier to pass those germs back and forth, and so we typically see a rise in those settings,” Nash said during a recent AlertFInd webinar.

And while many experts like Nash do not believe the whole world will be impacted at once, a large number of people in several areas can be affected at a given time, depending on the season.

Chances Of A Pandemic

Experts forecast that the chances of a major pandemic occurring in the next five years varies between 1 in 20 and 1 in 2.

“We’re watching the flus change as the climate changes,” Nash said. “We’re seeing changes in areas where an illness would normally die off in a normal climate. These traditional patterns for disease are being thrown out the window to a degree and we have to anticipate that this will keep changing.”

New estimates are not very encouraging, either. The number of dead in a modern pandemic could range from 50 million to 80 million, the Harvard Initiative for Global Health reported in a paper published online by The Lancet.

The Variant As The Pandemic

While nothing is completely certain, Nash said she’s already seeing indications of severe variant flus and it’s possible that it could be the source of the next pandemic.

“We have certain variants of flus that we know are going to be much more difficult for us to control,” Nash said.

“There are combinations of swine and avian flus which we see those happening over in Asia. Should they become more infectious to humans and combine with the flus that we normally have, then we likely are going to have a much broader outbreak, similar to what we did with the Spanish flu in 1918.”

Flu Prevention Strategies

Between office modifications and new approaches to sick and time-off policy guidelines, you have ample resources and strategies to incorporate into your company’s business continuity plan.

While you can’t control the overall severity of the flu season or the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, you can help prevent the spread of the flu in your organization. Educating employees about the flu and how to protect themselves can make a big difference.

“Communication is huge and alerting employees that someone has the flu is important,” Nash said. “Beyond a culture of health and wellness, you should be encouraging personal preparedness – and that means hand-washing and simple tasks like coughing into your sleeve. But if a child can’t return to school until 24 hours with no medication following a fever, there’s no reason it can’t also be like that in the professional world.”

This year, don’t make the mistake of not taking the flu seriously. Prepare now and help protect your employees before the flu season peaks. Educational materials, such as AlertFind’s pandemic infographic, can help illustrate the need for awareness and prevention.

For more insight from Meg Nash, MPH, about how organizations can enact flu prevention campaigns and keep employees healthy, watch AlertFind’s recent webinar, “Don’t Let The Flu Disrupt Your Organization.”