Kathleen Sebelius, sworn in as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary April 29, 2009

New Federal Flu Guidelines Out for Employers

Three cabinet secretaries, including HHS' Kathleen Sebelius, urged businesses to plan for absences, encourage employees to be vaccinated, and ensure critical operations are not interrupted.

Three secretaries of federal cabinet departments, HHS' Kathleen Sebelius, Commerce's Gary Locke, and DHS's Janet Napolitano, announced the release of new federal pandemic flu guidelines for businesses and urged employers to prepare without delay. "The health care system very likely will be stress during this year's flu season," Locke said, adding that companies should be planning now for continuity of operations with a depleted workforce, including cross-training and making preparations for telecommuting, taking steps to reduce face-to-face meetings, and possibly reducing travel.

Sebelius mentioned the H1N1 vaccines now in development should be available beginning around Oct. 15. She asked employers to focus on hands and home -- hand cleanliness, in the first instance, and also going home or staying home if you exhibit flu-like symptoms. All three secretaries noted seasonal flu is also a concern this fall, and they urged employers to encourage their workers to be vaccinated.

Sebelius listed five H1N1 "target population groups" for whom vaccination is particularly important: adults with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women, young people up to age 24, health care workers, and parents and guardians of infants.

"Protection from the flu is a shared responsibility," Napolitano said. "From a business perspective, planning is essential. Think through this: It's not just seasonal flu. We are proactive at the [federal government] level where we are at, but we're asking the business community to be proactive, too."

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