WR area business leaders get H1N1 advice

WARNER ROBINS — The best way to beat the H1N1 flu is to get educated and share that information with your employees, business leaders were told by health experts Friday.

The swine flu was the topic of discussion for the lunchtime Robins Regional Business Forum at the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce. Also, Jimmy Williams, director of the Houston County Emergency Management Agency, gave an update on the countywide emergency warning system.

Brian Fern, executive director for the American Red Cross Houston-Middle Georgia Chapter, offered business leaders practical, commonsense approaches to limit the flu’s spread while also challenging what some may have considered conventional wisdom.

Some practical tips: don’t cover your mouth with your hands when you cough but cough into your sleeve or into a tissue that is thrown away. Wash your hands and keep your workspace clean. He also suggested keeping plenty of hand sanitizer available in numerous locations. He said the Red Cross keeps a bottle on every worker’s desk.

For offices packed with cubicles, he suggested employers may want to consider spreading out employee work stations.

He also suggested cross-training employees to decrease the impact on a company if someone is out sick. Companies might also reorder tasks, allowing some employees to work from home, he suggested. The idea is that essential work could be done from home should a pandemic close down a business location for a week or more.

Fern also encouraged business leaders to ask workers to remain at home when sick, noting seasonal and H1N1 flu may keep an employee home for a week.

Although some employees may take advantage of it, Fern also recommended employers remove sick-note policies to lessen the strain on health-care providers.

Keeping a sick employee at home keeps the flu from spreading to other workers, causing even more employees to be out sick, he said.

Fern has developed an educational flier that he encouraged business leaders to pick up and distribute at work.

Jennifer Jones, public information officer for the North Central Health District, which covers 13 counties, including Houston, said treatment for the H1N1 and seasonal flu is the same. She said it’s often hard to distinguish between the two and testing to confirm H1N1 testing is costly. Only when a person is admitted into an intensive care unit is testing to determine the type of flu required by health officials, she said.

Jones recommended seasonal flu shots for all and recommended high-risk groups for H1N1 shots. But she noted that the H1N1 shot can be distributed to all once it is more widely available. She said health-care officials do not know how much of the H1N1 vaccine will be delivered at any given time until it arrives, but district health officials have ordered enough for all people to receive it if desired. High-risk groups will receive it first, she said.

Also, next flu season, one shot is expected to be available for both seasonal and H1N1 flu, Jones said.

In other discussion, Williams, the EMA director, reported that the telephone warning system for alerts of severe weather or missing children and elderly is now in operation. Houston County residents may go to the Web sites for city and county governments to update their telephone information by clicking on the “Code Red” icons on each site, he said.

Also, Houston County residents may receive a $15 voucher from the county for a $29.99-plus tax National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration weather radio. The final phase of the $1.7 million warning system is the installation of 33 countywide warning sirens, he said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.