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Australian Businesses Prepare for Outbreak of Bird Flu

Mounting fears of an avian flu outbreak has caused Australian businesses stockpile anti-viral drugs and face masks. //

Pandemic risk committees in compainies such as have regular meetings regularly Public companies such as Bluescope Steel and Telstra while the Commonwealth Bank has appointed a pandemic planning project manager.

Expanded computer networks to enable staff to work from home in the event of an outbreak have been included in the preparations against bird flu.

Fatal cases of bird flu in Asia and Europe have so far been a result of humans catching the disease from sick birds.

However with rising global deaths, crossing 100, fears of the virus passing from human to human, creating a pandemic has to be addressed.

This year the death toll from infection with the H5N1 strain was 55. In 2005 there were 41 deaths reported.

Through its relationship with medical support agency International SOS, BHP Billiton, has stockpiles of anti-viral drugs in regional offices considered at high risk. The Bank of Queensland has proposed to implement basic hygiene education for staff. According to immunologists this measure would help to reduce the spread of disease if a pandemic develops.

Many researchers predict a seasonal pattern of H5N1 infections in line with flu seasons which in Australia extends from mid-June through to the end of August. According to Director of the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Zsuzsanna Jakab, "In birds, it has peaked for now but it is very likely it will come back. We have to get used to a seasonal pattern".

Small businesses, such as the Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island, have stockpiled 1000 masks and have evacuation plans in place if a pandemic strikes.

Businesses have been advised to plan for up to half their staff being absent due to illness, or caring for sick family members or children because of scho ol being closed. As immunologist Ron Penny said," There's no strong recommendation that people who have a seriously infectious disease should stay at home.I think we need to educate people".

Federal Government advisers have warn that economically, Queensland would be the hardest hit of any Australian state with even a modest level pandemic causing a loss of about $11 billion, off the Gross State Product (GSP) in the first year alone.

International health experts predict bird flu has a 10 per cent chance of turning into a pandemic this financial year.

According to Telstra's network services managing director Michael Lawrey preparations for the likelihood of a pandemic were slightly higher in intensity than planning for other business risks such as fires, cyclones and floods.

Sydney-based company Good Health Solutions has estimated the cost of protecting a staff of 1000 against the possibility of a bird flu pandemic at about $92,000.

Businesses such as big retailers would probably be required to spend several millions if they decided to stockpile enough face masks and other protective gear to protect staff for three months.


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