As fears of a pandemic triggered by cases of the H5N1 (avian flu) virus increase, businesses need to have strategies in place to enable them to react immediately and effectively in the event of the vi

For companies to survive the social and economic disruption caused by a pandemic, it is vital that they develop, prepare and test business continuity plans, says Link Associates International. In a document titled Pandemic Flu Contingency, Link sets out the steps senior management need to consider should the avian flu situation worsen.
"A major consideration for companies must be the economic impacts of the pandemic," says author Jamie Jameson. "The personal and health impacts are potentially devastating, but the economic impacts are likely to be longer-lasting and even more insidious than the virus itself. Companies need to prepare now, not only for the loss of staff during the pandemic but for the business consequences."

H5N1 is a serious public heath concern due to its potential to spark a pandemic. A pandemic arises when three criteria are met: the emergence of a new influenza virus that has not previously circulated in humans; the capability of this new subtype to cause disease in humans; and the ability of the virus to be easily transmitted among humans. Of these criteria, only the last has not yet been fulfilled by H5N1.

World Health Organisation (WHO) experts consider the world to be closer to an influenza pandemic than at any time since 1968, which saw the last of the 20th century's three pandemics. It is estimated that once a fully transmissible human pandemic virus emerges, it could take as little as three months to cross the globe. WHO uses a system of six phases of pandemic alert to inform the world of the seriousness of the threat, and this currently stands at phase three: a new influenza virus subtype is causing disease in humans but is not yet spreading efficiently or sustainably among humans.

In accordance with each phase, Link's report advises firms to constantly review and update their plans and business continuity arrangements relating to all aspects of operation, including:

- Making provision for widespread staff absenteeism (estimated to reach or exceed 50% during the peak of infection), including cross-training to cover potential skills shortages

- Ensuring adequate medical coverage, insurance and support for travellers

- Confirming that key partners and the supply chain have all developed interlocking contingency plans.

Pandemic Flu Contingency can be downloaded at