Outbreak Prevention Plan: Better than a Cure

By Amy Milshtein

Outbreak Prevention Plan: Better than a Cure

There is a whole list of communicable diseases that can bring an organization to its knees. Influenza, strep, norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses spread quickly through a business, school, daycare or nursing home with disastrous results. The CDC estimates that influenza costs the U.S $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and another $16.3 billion in lost earnings. Johns Hopkins reports that norovirus costs more than $64 billion a year, mostly through lost productivity. A good outbreak prevention plan will lay out clear protocols to combat disease and move back to normal.

Who Knows What?

Communicating the right information to both internal and external stakeholders is paramount to any outbreak prevention plan. Make sure all emergency contact information is current and know which external agencies need to be alerted. Organizations should designate a leadership team and train them to manage the situation. Identify essential employees and their functions. Cross train staff to take on these essential duties in case illness spreads. Plan for daily briefings and be prepared to speak to the media if the situation worsens.

Isolate and Educate

A good plan will help stem an outbreak once a case has been suspected or confirmed. The first protocol is isolation until symptoms have cleared. Isolation, by the way, doesn’t mean solitary confinement, but staying home and binging Netflix until symptoms have cleared. Communicate how long that period is. Influenza protocol asks that individuals be fever free for 24 hours, while 72 hours without symptoms are required for norovirus. The healthy population should be made aware of the illness and armed with hygiene protocols. Emphasis the importance of flu shots and hand washing. Stockpile soap, towels, tissues and hand sanitizer.

Clean Slate

Proper cleaning and infection control is paramount during an outbreak. Step up cleaning during work or school hours. Pay special attention to touchpoints like desks, doorknobs, water fountains, toilets, light switches and soap, towel and tissue dispensers along with electronics and keyboards. The outbreak prevention plan should include a checklist of these high touch areas and how many times they need cleaning throughout the day. Focus on intense disinfection after business hours. Outline appropriate products and methods to combat the specific illness. Note that in the case of norovirus, a dry vacuum should never be used to clean bodily fluids. Instruct staff on following manufacturer directions for correct dilution, application and dwell time and provide appropriate protective gloves and eyewear if needed.

For tools that can help prevent an outbreak click here

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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