A security officer wears a mask inside the Sismanoglio hospital, the main Athens medical center equipped to deal with swine flu.
A security officer wears a mask inside the Sismanoglio hospital, the main Athens medical center equipped to deal with swine flu. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: The World Health Organization said today that the continuing spread of swine flu -- it's now in 62 countries -- has pushed the world closer to a pandemic. At the same time though, the agency says the general level of infection is moderate. International health officials are in a tricky spot. They want to warn people about a potential threat without causing panic. Much like businesses want to be prepared without overreacting. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.

JEFF TYLER: With cases of swine flu mounting, businesses could face mass employee absences. Abbie Leibowitz is chief medical officer with Health Advocate Incorporated. It helps businesses manage employee health issues. Leibowitz says global firms could see millions of dollars in lost productivity.

ABBIE Leibowitz: It can look like one of your work sites just goes offline. You may lose a facility. You may lose a call center. You may lose a manufacturing site. And so you've got to be able to function as a business.

That means having a point-person to develop a pandemic response plan. A recent survey by the Conference Board found that around 55 percent of respondents have pandemic plans in place. But the Conference Board's Carolyn Caviccho says
about a third reported having no contact with government agencies.

CAROLYN Caviccho: That figure that, you know, 35 percent weren't talking to government at all was really troubling because the public-health sector is really in the lead in responding to any pandemic.

She says companies need to be in touch with public health officials in all the locations where they have workers.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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