News of the West Nile virus (WNV) in the United States is nothing new; the CDC has reported over 30,000 human cases of it since its tracking in 1999. In fact, this year alone there have been reports of human infection and non-human WNV activity in 45 states. With the inevitable increase of infections as fall approaches, it is important for all of us to be aware of the symptoms, risks, prevention methods, and treatment options.
For businesses, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) produced an advisory bulletin, “Workplace Precautions against West Nile Virus,” to help business owners and workers understand their roles in contributing to employee safety as it relates to the West Nile virus. Along with information from the CDC, here are essential facts you should know about West Nile to reduce employee risks of contracting the disease.
Symptoms & Occupational Risks
Most people infected with WNV—roughly 70-80%—do not develop symptoms. The twenty or so percent who do develop symptoms generally develop a fever along with headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Symptoms prevent three to fourteen days after exposure and can last a few days; however, weakness and fatigue can persist for several weeks.
A more severe form of WNV can result in West Nile encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to permanent neurological problems and even death. These symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis.
Anyone is at risk for contracting West Nile viruses, since it is primarily transferred from mosquitos to humans; however, certain occupations carry a higher risk. These roles include people who work outside, especially in warmer climates. Additionally, people over 60 and those with certain medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease are at a greater risk, as well.
Prevention & Treatment
Mosquitos are typically found in warm weather, and although they are most active from dusk until dawn, they can be a nuisance any time of day. To help your employees ward off mosquito bites, we suggest the following actions:
- Use the appropriate insect repellant—Repellants containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 provide longer-lasting protection. Wearing clothes that cover extremities will also add further protection. If possible, provide mosquito nets if outside work is unavoidable.
- Mosquito-Proof Your Location—Removing all instances of stagnant water will eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. This includes emptying standing water from landscaping fixtures, gutters, and other locations where water may build up. Also, be aware of outside working conditions and/or equipment that may accumulate water and clean regularly.
- Provide educational resources—Late summer and early fall is when mosquito activity is at its highest. Keeping employees informed on prevention practices will help reduce their risk of contracting the disease. Use the CDC’s West Nile Virus (WNV) Fact Sheet to get started.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for WNV, but over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to ease body aches and headaches and to reduce fever. In some instances, hospital treatment may be required for supportive care, such as intravenous fluids.
Fortunately, the disease is not transmitted from person-to-person. Therefore, if someone exhibiting symptoms at the workplace is found to have West Nile fever, other employees are not at risk of contracting it from that person. If anyone is exhibiting symptoms that resemble those of the more severe infection, seek medical attention immediately. For more information on what to do should you suspect someone has West Nile virus or for ways to prepare your employees, contact your Customer Success representative.
Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.