U.S. government officials are urging businesses to develop plans to deal with the upcoming flu season, which is expected to be complicated by the H1N1 swine flu virus.
The U.S. secretaries of commerce, health and human services, and homeland security unveiled guidelines for businesses during a joint press conference Wednesday.
Officials are urging employers to be flexible in dealing with increased absences in coming months.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says employers should encourage employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home. He also says businesses should encourage hand-washing and cleanliness in the workplace.
Secretary of health and human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, says workers most susceptible to the swine flu should be encouraged to get regular seasonal flu shots. Sebelius says the most vulnerable include pregnant women, health care workers and guardians of infants under six-months-old.
The officials say they are working to ensure that a safe and effective swine flu vaccine is readily available.
Sebelius says a conventional, seasonal flu vaccine should be widely available next month.
The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic and says up to two billion people may eventually be infected with the H1N1 virus.
The WHO has stopped asking member nations for new reports of swine-flu infections because there are so many cases. The U.N. agency's most recent tally, issued August 12, counted more than 175,000 confirmed cases worldwide. The agency says nearly 1,500 people have died after contracting swine flu.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.