Protecting the Workforce from Zika
Although the Zika virus has been in the news for much of 2016, many questions remain about the different ways it can be transmitted.
Zika is most commonly transmitted through the bite of an infected species of mosquito. However, the virus also has been transmitted through sexual activity among humans, during blood transfusions or via laboratory exposures such as a needlestick. An infection from the virus in pregnant women has been linked to severe birth defects, including microcephaly.
The virus has been prevalent in South and Central America and the Caribbean but has been reported in other parts of the world.
At present, however, no Zika-infected mosquitoes have been found in North America, Pillai said, and about 80 percent of cases show few or mild symptoms. The most common symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain.
No vaccine had been developed as of press time.
The outdoor workforce
Outdoor workers – including those involved in mosquito control, health care and laboratory workers, and business travelers – are most at risk for exposure to Zika.
Guidelines for outdoor workers include:
If an employer suspects a worker has been exposed to Zika, he or she should do the following:
Other exposed industries
People who work in the health care field or in laboratories should follow standard infection control and biosafety practices, including hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment. Management also should ensure lab facilities and practices meet the appropriate biosafety level relative to the type of work being conducted.
Here's the advice for business travelers: Consult a doctor before visiting a Zika-infected area. Pregnant women should not travel to Zika-infected areas. The agency suggests that employers consider allowing travel flexibility if an employee is concerned about exposure.
If a traveler returns from a Zika-infested area and does not feel sick, that individual should still practice mosquito bite prevention measures for three weeks. A person who has the virus can spread it to uninfected mosquitoes if bitten.
If any worker, regardless of job duties, displays symptoms associated with Zika, he or she should visit their doctor or health care provider.