One of the most potentially serious threats to public health in recent years is swine flu, otherwise known as influenza A (H1N1). There are certain measures, however, that workers can take to safeguard themselves and their colleagues.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine flu is a disease of the respiratory system. It usually affects pigs although the animals rarely die.
Swine flu now appears to have transferred to humans. Because it is a new flu virus, there is no immunity to it. In other words, anyone can catch it regardless of his or her state of health or age.
Swine Flu Symptoms
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to ordinary flu but more pronounced. These symptoms may include a fever, headache, cough, sore throat, tiredness, a runny nose, and sore joints and muscles.
Swine Flu Prevention or Avoidance
The government has begun a publicity campaign that gives advice on how to prevent the spread of swine flu. Essentially, people should cover their mouths and noses with tissues when coughing and sneezing; dispose of the tissues hygienically; wash their hands frequently; and regularly clean surfaces that come into contact with hands.
Swine Flu Treatment
Treatment involves resting at home; taking aspirin, ibuprofen or similar medication; and drinking lots of fluids.
There is no vaccine for swine flu. Antiviral drugs, however, shorten the period of illness and help avoid health complications. The swine flu information line – 0800 1 513 513 – offers the most up-to-date advice about contacting a doctor and getting antiviral medicine.
Swine Flu at Work
The government is keeping track of all swine flu cases. This means that businesses can stay aware of how many people have the flu and where they are. Nonetheless, government advice is for businesses to prepare in advance for the effects that swine flu could have on their operations.
The first step is to ensure everyone at work knows what swine flu is and how it spreads. Obviously, one member of staff who comes to work with flu can infect everyone around them.
To get the message across, businesses should support the government information campaign. To do so, they can download the official leaflet from government websites and email it to all staff.
Businesses may also wish to update their health and safety risk assessments. These can include references to swine flu and its symptoms. The assessments should also repeat the advice for staff to carry tissues; use these to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze; to immediately dispose of the tissues; and to wash their hands frequently.
There is no general need for staff to wear masks. This applies even if staff come into regular contact with the public.
Some contact with the public however, carries a greater risk. This could be in a hospital, for example, where masks may be appropriate. The Department of Health has details about using the right sort of mask in such environments.
Travel to Work
Even if swine flu spreads rapidly in the UK, the government are unlikely to restrict any form of travel. The advice is for anyone who begins to feel the symptoms to stay at home and keep away from other people.