Officials: If you're sick, stay home

DOWNTOWN — Concern about potentially debilitating flu outbreaks has spurred some area businesses to take more precautions than ever to keep workers from getting sick or infecting their colleagues.

When employees at Glendale-based Nestle USA start to feel even an inkling of an illness, they have been instructed to stay at home.

The company has gone on an unprecedented flu prevention campaign, leveraging e-mails and the Internet to blast regular alerts to its staff, breaking down guidelines for staying healthy and, if workers get sick, for protecting others, said Edie Burge, a spokeswoman for the company.

“We’re minimizing any potential disruption to our business and ensuring the safety of all of our employees and their families,” she said.

Hand sanitizers are prevalent throughout the company’s facilities nationwide, and flu vaccines are being offered at some sites, she said.

Workers have also received briefings on preparation for a flu infection, including suggestions for arranging alternative care for children in case they, or their parents, get sick, she said.

Yahoo, which has offices in Burbank, has stepped up its hand-sanitizing procedures at its company eateries and pushed all of its workers to get vaccines, both for seasonal and H1N1 flu strains.

An office flu outbreak, from an H1N1 strain or other variety, has the potential to significantly disrupt business operations, particularly if the disease spreads rapidly through a department, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

“People are very concerned about it,” Kyser said.

Flu worries may be greatest among companies that deal with international clients who may now be reluctant to risk exposure to areas where the disease is widespread, he said.

That has happened in the past, when some American companies feared sending their employees to Asia, he said.

“When you had the avian flu over in Asia, you had a lot of companies here, they did not send staff over for the usual meetings,” he said.

While businesses are increasingly concerned about protecting their staffs, major public gathering places have few precautions in place to protect their visitors from getting the flu.

It is near impossible to take flu precautions at malls, movie theaters and other places where masses of people frequently mix, said Jennifer Gordon, vice president of Caruso Affiliated, which owns the Americana at Brand in Glendale.

“I don’t know how you could really do anything about it,” she said.

Glendale and Burbank are encouraging their public employees to wash their hands frequently and to stay away from others if they are sick.

Burbank officials have aggressively distributed flu prevention guidelines, including announcements sent along with paychecks, said Keith Sterling, the city’s public information officer.

“We’re confident that we have enough staff in place that if folks came down with a virus that services wouldn’t be affected, but that said we do want to encourage our employees to be proactive,” Sterling said.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has stepped up its efforts to inform residents about the importance of getting a vaccine, particularly those most at risk of complications from H1N1.

The department has recommended that businesses and schools work to prevent the spread of disease at the first indication of an illness, said Alonzo Plough, the county’s director of emergency response and preparedness.

Plough suggested businesses urge workers to stay home if they show flu symptoms, remaining away from the workplace until 24 hours after the final signs of a fever have subsided.

Even for a struggling business that will struggle being temporarily short-staffed, the decision will pay off in the long run, he said.

“The way to stop a spread of an infectious disease like that is if an individual stays home when they’re sick,” he said. “They don’t infect their co-workers, and that’s the best strategy of stopping this disease so that they don’t infect your entire workforce.”

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