H5n1 avian flu has spread to three different continents in recent years, wreaking havoc on the bird populations in many of the affected regions and killing at least 141 people. World Health Organization, Cumulative Number of Confirmed Human Cases of Avian Influenza A/(H5N1) Reported to WHO, Aug. 23, 2006. Although the current virus strain is not easily transmittable to humans, employers should not view a potential pandemic as a merely theoretical issue.

A U.S. government report recommended that “government entities and the private sector plan with the assumption [that] up to 40 percent of their staff may be absent for periods of about two weeks at the height of a[n avian flu] pandemic wave, with lower levels of staff absent for a few weeks on either side of the peak.” National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan, Homeland Security Council, May 2006, at 13, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns that a pandemic flu could kill more than a half a million people, require 2 million people to be hospitalized and cost an estimated $70 billion to $160 billion. Pandemic Planning, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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