Since it was first discovered in early March, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reportedly taken 1,546 lives and infected about 3,052 others — a number that is likely to grow rapidly as affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) struggle to contain the disease, according to the World Health Organization’s website
While the disease has moved to other countries (two U.S. cases, and others in the Middle East), the virus has mainly been contained to one continent.
But, this latest outbreak has raised some important questions for travelers, the healthcare industry, travel-related services, and any businesses with operations or workers in affected areas because of the potential for the disease to spread.
While the Ebola virus disease (EVD) can only be transmitted through direct contact of open wounds or mucous membranes with contaminated blood, other fluids, or organs, it is not the only pandemic. Others have the potential to spread much more easily, and much faster.
Clayton Shoup, Workers Compensation Line of Business Director at Zurich North America, advises companies to have a plan in place in case another pandemic, one like the H1N1 virus, which spread throughout Mexico and into the United States in 2009 at an alarmingly pace, happens to reappear.
“The pandemic prior to H1N1 was in the 1960s,” he says. “The speed at which H1N1 spread was a surprise to people, so I think it woke everyone up. This is a serious risk, and a pretty important topic to discuss within businesses. We have to be prepared for it.”
Advice: Get Educated
Shoup says one of the biggest pandemic risks to prepare for is the lack of education within communities.
“In general, businesses are probably better prepared today than they were in previous years, but there is definite opportunity for education,” he claims.
For example, there was an underlying murmur in social media about the return of the two U.S. aid workers infected with the Ebola virus. “Some people said, “Why are we bringing Ebola into the U.S.?!” But the reality was that the real exposure was nil, and these American citizens deserved the best treatment they could obtain. With risk education, more people would understand this.”
Other risks are misinformation and then inaction by businesses and public health officials.
Shoup’s advice: Know the difference between real risk and imagined risk when it comes to pandemics. Educate yourself and your employees, create plans for employee-related risks, facility-related risks, and business-continuity risks, and prepare before a pandemic reaches your office.
For more tips on how to protect your office in the event of a pandemic, check out Ebola Outbreak: Tips for Protecting Workers.
How are you preparing for a pandemic?