Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu in Houston

At the hopsitals:

Swine flu arrived in Houston Wednesday as a Fort Bend County teenage girl became the first local resident confirmed to have the disease and a 2-year-old Mexico City boy who fell ill in Brownsville and was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital became the disease’s first U.S. death.

At schools:

The Houston Independent School District has two “probable” but unconfirmed cases of swine flu, one involving a 9-year-old girl from Harvard Elementary and the other a 14-year-old girl at Hamilton Middle School, a district official said late Wednesday.

The schools will be closed until further notice from the health department, according to district spokesman Norm Uhl, who said the district will hold a news conference this morning on the situation.

And at the office:

As news was quickly swirling about the growing swine flu epidemic, Andy Bogle assembled his 15 employees Monday morning and gave them a refresher about frequent hand washing, liberal use of hand sanitizers and staying home if they have flu-like symptoms.

“We don’t want any heros,” said Bogle, whose company rents and sells surveying and positioning equipment for offshore oil and gas exploration and production. ...

Similar meetings, memos and e-mail reminders have popped up all over Houston and beyond in the past few days, reminding employees how to avoid the flu and what do if they get sick.

At the same time, companies are reviewing their disaster emergency plans in case a massive number of employees must stay at home.


It’s the same provisions put in place during the big spike in gasoline prices last summer, she said. “We want to remind employees that it is available.”

The firm is also suggesting that client-company employees should consider rescheduling their travel if have to go Mexico which seems to be source of the new strain of flu, she said.

Companies need to focus on how to handle wide-spread employee absences, said Christopher Falkenberg, president of Insite Security in New York.

He estimated as many as 40 percent of employees could either call in sick, not be able to come into the office or travel in the event of any quarantines.

Companies should think about how they’ll keep going if a pandemic develops, said Falkenberg, a former special agent for the U.S. Secret Service. One thing they shouldn’t do is install a lot of computer hardware, he said. The key is to identify how the business will operate.

If the company depends on traveling sales associates, perhaps product samples can be shipped instead of hand-carried and demonstrations done through video equipment. Or maybe a company can do three-dimensional, online modeling or hire local sales representatives for face-to-face meetings.

Fulbright & Jaworski had a dry-run three years ago when it made elaborate preparations during the Avian bird flu scare. Those plans were fine-tuned by a succession of natural disasters.

The hurricanes have been useful for planning, said Jane Williams, chief human resources officer, who put together an ad hoc child care center after Hurricane Ike so parents could get back to work. The older teenagers were even pressed into duty: the law firm hired them to help the professional child care workers entertain the younger children.

So the hurricane last summer and even the flooding last week were trial runs for a flu outbreak.

I've been suffering from severe vertigo for over a week and have been in to the office twice in ten days, and now to try and struggle in only to be greeted with a nice case of this ...

Update: Here's some CDC linkage. Get your updates straight from the source.

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