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May 1 2009 12:00 AM

DiGennaro Communications office manager Theresa Piti took initiative Wednesday morning — e-mailing the 13-person firm with tips such as "always cover your mouth" when coughing to combat the spread of swine flu. She even let staff know where to buy "fruity" hand sanitizers.
The message to about 1,200 US employees at ICAP - the world's largest broker between banks - was more formally written, but it also got its point across: Use hand sanitizers and stay home if any flu-like symptoms appear. General Motors has suspended "all non-critical business travel" to Mexico.
Companies small and large are taking steps to protect their workers, and their bottom lines, as swine flu nears pandemic stage.
The impact of swine flu on business has far-reaching implications: Employee sickness could hamper worker productivity, and eventually increase health insurance costs; supplies from other countries may be hard to get, and the public could slow shopping or going to public businesses such as restaurants, says Prakash Shimpi, a risk management specialist for consulting firm Towers Perrin.
He advised companies to be aware and on top of the issue - but to make sure they don't start "panic and fear. Now is the time for thoughtful reasoning, communication and preparation," he says. Among the hopeful flu-fighting steps companies are taking: purchasing face masks and doling out anti-bacterial wipes for workers to sanitize their desks. Corporate travel policies also have been changed.
Retail stores, for example, are communicating with employees and customers to "help allay fears, dispel rumors and let them know what's being done as a company," says Joe LaRocca, the National Retail Federation's senior asset protection adviser. After all, as consumers shop for masks and other preventive products, they need to be assured the stores are safe once they are there. This week, the National Restaurant Association set up a special swine flu-focused website that has a definition of the disease, government updates and details on swine flu scams - such as one in which a restaurant employee was told by an unscrupulous seller that the Department of Homeland Security mandated all eateries to buy an expensive swine flu kit.
News release provided by USA Today. Visit for more news headlines.


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