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Preparing for H1N1

Dental practices should adopt contingency plans

With the H1N1 virus now in full swing across college campuses and most of the Southeastern states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are urging businesses—including health care facilities—to steel themselves in case of a severe flu outbreak in their area.

The DHS has issued a guide to help small business owners write a plan and prepare themselves for potential flu outbreaks.

"Small businesses are often the backbone of the private sector industries and their communities," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the guide's introduction, "With this in mind, we must partner to ensure the wheels of the nation's economy continue to turn, even if faced with absenteeism, restricted services and supply chain disruptions. If prepared, small businesses can keep their doors open and our nation's economic health and security resilient."

The document also provides information to give to employees to help them prepare their families. Although the guide is intended for all types of businesses, much of the information can be applied to dental practices as well. Some of the tips include designating a workplace coordinator, encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick and providing workers with the means to obtain flu vaccines—seasonal and the H1N1 vaccines when available.

"It's important that dental offices develop contingency plans in case there is a flu outbreak in their area," said Dr. Frank Graham, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. "Practices may want to consider cross-training staff where appropriate to cover for other staff members who may become ill with the flu, or who need time off to take care of their family members with the flu."

The H1N1 flu is caused by type A strains of the influenza virus that are spread by exposure to coughing and sneezing from infected persons. Symptoms include fever greater than 100 degrees, chills, head and body aches, fatigue, cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, and nausea and vomiting. On Sept. 15, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it has approved four vaccines against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. The vaccines will be distributed nationally as they become available.

Although dental practices are not considered on the front line of the H1N1 threat, practices in areas where outbreaks occur should be prepared for disruption. As part of its outreach effort to the profession on the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu), the ADA has created a dental-specific fact page for dentists and dental team members.

Visit www.ada.org for up-to-date-information, including the most frequently asked questions about H1N1. To access the DHS guide, visit www.dhs.gov.

Dentists may also call the ADA Division of Dental Practice at the toll-free, Ext. 2622.