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For the past week the top news story has been the 2013 Flu epidemic. The flu’s impact on industries varies greatly as some businesses may suffer from a loss of productivity due to absent workers and yet others such as hospitals and clinics may be overwhelmed. Fortunately there are some things every business can do to help mitigate the flu’s impact this year.

What Can the Flu Cost Your Organization

The actual impact on an organization is very much dependent on who gets sick. For example, in a maintenance dependent organizations, the loss of a key staff/engineer can set off a spiraling backlog of work orders, inspections and halt preventive maintenance. In a worst case scenario, missed maintenance can lead to an accident, major repairs or set the stage for a disaster.

For other organizations, missing staff can lead to customer service problems, reduced operational flexibility and lost sales opportunities. Clearly, a flu epidemic has an impact on business that transcends any one industry and affects us all.

The flu is not anyone’s friend (except maybe the flu vaccine and remedy companies). I have heard many times over the years that to beat your enemy you must know your enemy, so it would be helpful if we all understood how the flu virus works. So in non-medical terms the flu is explained, followed by how it is spread and then how all executives and facility management in any organization can prepare.

What is the Flu?

The flu is the shortened term for influenza, a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system (your ability to breathe). Because it is a viral and not a bacterial infection, antibiotics are useless against the flu.

Both the flu and the common cold come with congestion, sore throats, headaches and chest discomfort but with the flu you are more likely to run a high fever and feel fatigued.

Without treatment the flu can weaken the body’s immune system and lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia or the worsening of dangerous medical conditions such as lung disease, asthma and diabetes. Secondary bacterial infections can be extremely dangerous to the very young and very old. Over 23,000 people die from the flu in the U.S.A. every year and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.

How does the Flu Spread

Sneeze

Influenza viruses can be spread from an infected person starting the day before they have symptoms and continue for about a week maybe longer in some cases. How the first person is infected every year is undetermined but it can spread three different ways:

  1. Direct transmission of droplets into the eyes, nose or mouth of another (usually by sneezing).
  2. Airborne transmission when infected droplets are inhaled.
  3. Self-inflicted by someone touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.

A single sneeze can produce 40,000 droplets of various sizes. How long the droplets remain active depends on the type of surface they land upon. For example, the virus can remain active for 1-2 days on hard surfaces but only a few minutes on a paper tissue.

If you are wondering why the flu always seems to affect the northern States in the wintertime first it is because cold temperatures, low humidity and a lack of sunlight lengthen the amount of time the virus can be active. Wintertime in the north has next to ideal conditions for spreading the various influenza viruses.

Once the flu is established, spreading on a national or global basis is easy. Schools, hospitals, dormitories, nursing homes, military installations, offices, airports, churches and wherever people can congregate make flu season the epidemic it becomes.

On a special note, you do not need to have a lot of contact with other people to be infected. As someone who is living in Florida and only goes into an office once a week, I am writing this article hoping that the fever, sneezing and headache I have is not the flu. My odds of contracting the flu were lower than most and yet?

How can You Prepare Your Facility for the Flu?

Closing down operations during flu season isn’t a realistic or practical solution for most industries and businesses. A better solution is to be aware of the things facility managers, executives and administrators can do to mitigate the impact on their workforce, customers and students.

Six Easy Flu Preparation Tips for Facility Maintenance
  1. Send people having symptoms of the flu home. If they don’t have sick time available – have a heart, if they make more people sick it will be a financial or productivity loss to your organization.
  2. Encourage flu vaccinations especially in any healthcare, school or public facility.
  3. Wash those hands!!!!! Influenza viruses do not like soap and water or alcohol based rinses. Killing the virus early lowers the chance of self-inflicted contamination.
  4. Set-up a maintenance checklist using your CMMS for surfaces to be wiped down and disinfected on a frequent schedule. Use alcohol based rinses in combination with ammonium compounds and bleach for best results. This will reduce infection by direct and airborne transmission
  5. Post signs, send emails or use other methods to encourage people to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing.
  6. Perform inspections of HVAC units that have specialized HEPA filters for removing droplets from the air. Ensure they are working correctly as well as having the right filter in place.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA).

We hope you stay healthy this flu season and wish you all good health.