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Business urged to work with staff on pandemic plan

6 July 2006

Business people urged to work with staff in planning for a pandemic

More than 40 people from a range of sectors including health, education, retail and banking attended the free Pandemic Influenza “What you need to know” information session last night (Wednesday 5 July).

Bay of Plenty and Lakes Medical Officer of Health Dr Phil Shoemack, Whakatane District Council Emergency Management Officer Jan Pryor and Department of Labour Health and Safety Inspector Dave Osborne made presentations.

Department of Labour’s Dave Osborne explained how successful planning involves talking with staff, business suppliers and customers.

“Business owners need to sit down with staff and say ‘what are we going to do to plan for a pandemic’, who is going to work when, what critical items need to be stockpiled and what can we do to help each other,” says Mr Osborne. “The options employers and employees take during a pandemic will impact on their and the communities’ ability to recover from it.”

Dr Phil Shoemack gave an overview of the current international and national influenza situation as well as the impact a pandemic could have on our communities.

Whakatane District Council Emergency Management Officer Jan Pryor discussed the importance of identifying and maintaining essential services as well as what the council is doing to prepare.

“It’s important to identify key people and ensure others are trained up to replace them if they fall sick in a pandemic,” says Jan Pryor. “The council has done this, as well as discussed social distancing with staff, organised with IT to allow people to access the internal computer system off site and video conferencing.”

Dr Shoemack says in the event of pandemic influenza, businesses play a vital role in protecting employee’s health and safety.

“It’s important businesses of any size know what they would do if a pandemic strikes, rather than waiting till it happens and coming up against major issues, “ he says. “I think the attendees got a lot from the session. Now it’s their turn to take action and start planning.”

The Department of Labour has a practical guide for employers, which can be found at http://www.dol.govt.nz/PDFs/pandemic-practical-quide.pdf as well as a visual planning tool from http://www.dol.govt.nz/PDFs/pandemic-visual-summary.pdf

The Bay of Plenty and Lakes District Health Boards are holding three more FREE business information sessions in Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo to guide businesses in planning for a pandemic. Private companies, schools, government and non-government organisations in each area have been invited to sessions but businesses that haven’t received an invite and are keen to attend, can contact Sarah Gorringe (details below).

Tauranga
Tauranga Boys College Hall, 664 Cameron Road.
Tuesday 11th July
10am-midday or 5:30-7:30pm

Rotorua
Rotorua District Council
Committee Room One
Thursday 3rd August
9am – 11am OR 1:30pm – 3:30pm

Taupo
Taupo Events Centre
Tuesday 25th July
1:30-3:30pm
For more information:
Phil Shoemack
Toi Te Ora Public Health
Medical Officer of Health
07 577 3320
021 228 5534
phil.shoemack@bopdhb.govt.nz

Sarah Gorringe
Toi Te Ora Public Health
Social Marketer
07 577 3772
021 22 78670
sarah.gorringe@bopdhb.govt.nz

Background information as detailed on the Ministry of Health website
www.moh.govt.nz
What is Influenza?
Influenza (the flu) is a highly infectious illness caused by a virus.

It is much more serious than a common cold and will leave you ill for up to 10 days.

Symptoms of the flu start suddenly and include:
- a high fever
- headache
- muscle aches and pains
- fatigue
- cough
- sore throat, or
- a runny nose.
Influenza can be a mild or severe illness depending on the type of influenza virus causing it, and the age and general health of the person affected. It may take up to three days to show symptoms when you catch the flu.

Anyone can get influenza — being fit, active and healthy does not protect you from getting this virus.

Anyone can die from influenza — it kills at least 100 New Zealanders every year, including some young, fit people.

Can I do anything to prevent myself getting it?
Every year you can ask your doctor to vaccinate you against the flu. As the influenza virus changes frequently, new vaccine against the new virus is made every year. To get your immunity to the new virus you will need to get the new vaccine.

The flu is very easily spread by sick people who cough and sneeze. To reduce the chances of getting the flu there are also things you can do, such as ensuring good health hygiene habits.

If you have the flu, you should stay home from work, avoid public places and close contact with others. If you have the flu, you should always cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue and wash your hands afterwards.

What is Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)?
There are many types of influenza virus, some of which infect other animals including birds. The viruses that infect birds are avian influenza viruses. Very rarely, an avian influenza virus can also infect people. One of these viruses - H5N1- has infected some people who have caught it from having close contact with infected birds .

Avian influenza can cause severe flu-like symptoms in people and may result in death. It has not been shown for sure that
anyone has caught avian influenza from another person. If this has happened it has been very rare.

There are currently no commercially available vaccines that will protect people against disease caused by H5N1.

Is Avian Influenza transmissible to humans?
Yes, very rarely, an avian influenza virus can also infect people. The current avian influenza virus – H5N1 – has infected some people who have caught it from having close contact with infected birds.

Since December 2003, widespread outbreaks of H5N1 in birds in Asian countries have been associated with human cases and deaths in Asia.

For more information on avian influenza and the significance of its transmission to humans, see the World Health Organization website (www.who.int).

What are Avian Influenza symptoms in humans?
The exact symptoms, incubation period and duration of avian influenza in people are not known, because there have not been enough cases.

Generally the symptoms are similar to those for people infected with human influenza virus, although the severity of the illness may differ. Symptoms generally appear three to seven days after exposure and can last up to seven days.

Why are health authorities concerned about Avian Influenza?
The World Health Organization is worried that an avian influenza virus might change so that it has the ability to easily spread from person to person, or mix with a human influenza virus resulting in a new strain of influenza virus that can do this. This could trigger an influenza pandemic.

What is an influenza pandemic?
An influenza pandemic occurs when a new strain of influenza virus emerges, spreading around the world and infecting many people in a very short time.

An influenza virus capable of causing a pandemic is one that people have no natural immunity to and can easily spread from person to person. It may cause severe disease. An influenza pandemic could cause many deaths and could occur at any time. It could happen at any time of the year, not just winter.

What are the symptoms of an influenza pandemic?
The symptoms of pandemic influenza are the same as seasonal influenza.

This includes: The sudden start of a high fever, headache, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, cough, sore throat, or a runny nose.

The virus can cause a mild or severe illness depending on the type of influenza virus and the age and general health of the person affected. It may take up to three days to show symptoms.

How likely is an influenza pandemic?
It is certain an influenza pandemic will happen one day.

There are many bird flu viruses circulating in some countries at present. One of these, the H5N1, could become a pandemic influenza virus at any time if it changes so it can be easily spread from human to human.

How often do pandemics occur?
There were three influenza pandemics last century, in 1918, 1956-57 and 1968.

What caused them?
All three pandemics last century were caused by different types of bird flu viruses.

Could migratory birds "import" avian influenza virus to New Zealand?
Migratory waterfowl (such as ducks and geese) are carriers of the avian influenza virus. It generally does not make them sick, but they excrete the virus. The virus they leave in fields or water can then infect domestic birds.

Fortunately New Zealand is not on the regular migratory pathways of any waterfowl. The small number which do reach New Zealand mostly originate from southern Australia.

Other migratory birds such as shorebirds including the bar-tailed godwit, lesser knot, ruddy turnstone, Pacific golden plover etc, visit estuaries along the Asian coastline, Philippines and Australia on their annual migrations south from arctic Russia . They are not "waterfowl" and are not regarded as a high risk for introducing avian viruses into New Zealand.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is currently undertaking surveillance in wild birds to assess the influenza status of waterfowl and shore birds.

It is not known why some strains of influenza become virulent in some species under certain circumstances while others do not, but it is thought that inter-species mixing (i.e. quails, geese, ducks and chickens) and high population densities, such as occur in intensive poultry farming and bird markets in China and other Asian countries, may favour interspecies transmission of the viruses.

Avian influenza in New Zealand is notifiable.

For general information on Avian Influenza infection in birds visit the Biosecurity New Zealand web site.

To report suspected cases of avian influenza in birds or exotic diseases call 0800 809 966.

How can avian influenza be controlled in birds?
The most important control measures are surveillance, identification and rapid destruction (culling) of all infected or exposed birds, proper disposal of carcasses, and the quarantining and rigorous disinfection of farms.

Restrictions on the movement of live poultry, both within and between countries, are another important control measure.

I have chickens. How will I know if my flock has got avian influenza?
The disease can be variable, depending on species, age, virus type and other factors like concurrent bacterial infections. The main symptoms to look for in poultry are:
- Sudden and unexplained deaths
- Rapid spread of disease throughout the flock
- Depression and loss of appetite
- Drop in egg production
- Nervous signs
- Swelling and blue combs and wattles
- Coughing, sneezing and diarrhoea.

For general information on Avian Influenza infection in birds visit the Biosecurity New Zealand web site.

To report suspected cases of avian influenza in birds or exotic diseases call 0800 809 966.


ENDS

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