The World Health Organization (WHO) took the dramatic step of raising its pandemic alert level to Phase 5 Wednesday -- one level shy of declaring swine flu a full-blown pandemic.
For those in the security/emergency response arena, the question now may be, "Now what?"
The answer, according to WHO officials and a security expert, is to take steps to limit exposure -- but to do so with a calm voice.
Kevin Coleman, a strategic management consultant at Technolytics, said the best bet for companies right now is to limit business travel, bring in extra cleaning crews and keep employees at home if they complain of so much as a sniffle.
"Encourage anyone who feels the least bit sick to stay home," Coleman said. "If an employee can do all the work from home on company laptops and VPNs that they do in the office, there's no reason to have them come in. If you can limit exposure from the get-go, why wouldn't you?"
Meantime, Coleman said, companies should ramp up the cleaning crew activity that's already going on, mostly after office hours. Bringing in extra cleaning crews to wipe down heavily-touched surfaces like doors, walls, phones and keyboards is money well spent, he said.
"Employees can also do their part to limit the spread of flu by carrying around antibacterial hand wipes," he said, noting that some of his clients have already pulled back on the amount of business travel employees can do.
By WHO standards, a Phase 5 alert means there's sustained human-to-human spread in at least two countries. It also indicates that efforts to produce a vaccine will be accelerated. At last check, WHO had confirmed human cases of swine flu in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Spain and Israel.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan advised citizens against panic. "Continue with your business but try to pay special attention to personal hygiene," she told The Associated Press.
Coleman also tried to put the severity of the problem in perspective: "The swine flu is not that deadly a virus," he said. "To put it in perspective, more than 30,000 people a year die from regular flu.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed 91 cases in 10 states Wednesday, with 51 in New York, 14 in California, and 16 in Texas. Two cases have been confirmed in Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan, while single cases have been reported in Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Ohio, the The Associated Press reported.