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Aren't scared of the flu and its potential effect on your business? Let me fix that

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How's your staff holding up so far this year? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which does weekly updates on reported flu cases, Pennsylvania's incidence has moved up to “widespread,” as is the situation in most of the country.

This county-level map shows that flu has hit serious levels in parts of the midstate – Dauphin, York and Lancaster counties especially.

The annual drum beat to get a flu shot is just background noise for most of us, we hear it so often. Should you, as an employer, push harder to see your people are inoculated? Can you insist? You'd best tread carefully there. The case of the Elizabethtown nurse who was fired last month for refusing is probably not over.

Regardless, flu shots protect, they don't prevent. Your people will still get sick but, hopefully, at a reduced and less severe rate.

The real threat we face is the new and unknown. I came across this article in Nature about cholera, a disease that's really off the radar for most of us. It was "new" to the West in the early 1800s and killed millions before medical science began to understand how it could be spread through contaminated water.

The lesson in this article, I think, is that the cholera organism has changed and can change again, just as germs become antibiotic-resistant and the flu virus mutates in us or jumps to us from other species.

Remember the bird flu scare? A decade ago, we were fascinated by photos of people in Asia wearing masks in public in hopes of preventing infection.

Today? A woman in Canada last month became the first recorded death in North America from the avian flu virus and hardly anybody blinked.

I remember, several years ago, the Red Cross working hard to encourage communities and businesses to include "pandemic" along with fire, flood and other weather calamities in their disaster-preparedness planning. But memories are short, and it's difficult enough trying to think ahead and identify the obvious, much less plan for the nearly unthinkable.

I used to be a flu-shot denier. I skipped getting it for years after the swine flu scare of 1976. But I like to read history, and the more I learned about World War I and the subsequent flu pandemic of 1918-19, the more I realized how silly I was being. In assessing risk, I was looking at the wrong factors.

Much of the world will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War this year; I hope no one overlooks the fact that more people died in the subsequent pandemic than in the war. Pennsylvania was so hard hit there was a shortage of coffins.

Sorry to get so gloomy, but there it is. Life spans have gotten so long, and we so expect modern medicine to cure – or prevent – the common diseases that routinely killed that we just don't think this way anymore. And it could cost us dearly some day.

This past week, we saw a lot of businesses putting parts of their disaster-recovery plans in, as cold and ice slew furnaces, burst pipes and kept employees at home. I wonder how many of those plans contain a giant hole, though.

Do you ever think about how your business would continue if you lost key people, or a majority of your staff, not for a day or two but forever?

Here's a good place to start.

The week ahead

Are you sick of reading about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare? You can't afford to be. Reporter Heather Stauffer will have a midstate update in the Jan. 17 issue of the Business Journal. (And if you missed our live chat last week with Rob Glus, partner and consulting actuary at Conrad Siegel Actuaries, you can replay it here.)

Also this week, there's a lot of movement on the development front in Cumberland County. And not so coincidentally, our Inside Business focus is on business disaster planning and recovery.

It should be warm enough, relatively speaking, to get out and about this week, and here are some networking opportunities.

The rewind

Just one follow-up this week – to my blog from last week on the size of state legislatures around the country. This Pew Research graphic shows comparisons of days in session, along with other interesting data.

Everything else I'd stocked up to share was too depressing. How about this? It's less than 10 weeks until the first day of spring. Though I've got to ask: Did you really think Niagara Falls froze last week?

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. A Pennsylvania native, she is a graduate of Penn State and Xavier University. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at hopes@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @hstephan. Circle Hope Stephan on .

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