Zika virus is now a well-known global public health emergency, and while the awareness of the virus has increased, the spread of Zika continues. Zika is a mosquito-borne illness spread mostly by the Aedes species, which is an aggressive mosquito that bites mostly during the day, but is also known to bite at night. It is also confirmed that Zika can be sexually transmitted, as well as passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects, such as microcephaly, which is a sign of incomplete brain development.
Most recent cases have been found in Florida, in Miami-Dade County and the CDC has issued a travel advisory recommending that pregnant women and their partners avoid this area. Although most of the focus is on Florida right now, there are concerns that other states may be next. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the Allergy and Infectious Diseases Unit of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), noted in an interview with ABC News that the recent flooding in Louisiana could boost the likelihood that Zika will spread into that state. In addition to Louisiana, Fauci noted that Texas and other Gulf States have an increased risk of a Zika outbreak.
Prevent, Respond To and Recover From a Zika Outbreak:
It is important to educate your employees on the virus and to prepare your organization in the event of an outbreak. Not only could your organization experience a reduced workforce, but revenue may also be affected if a travel advisory is issued in your area. Organizations should have prevention, response and recovery plans in place. Below are some suggestions on how to implement these plans at your workplace.
Preventing a Zika Outbreak in Your Workplace:
- Make sure you have an updated plan in place to respond to a reduced workforce. For more information on these procedures, watch Preparis’ past webinar on workforce continuity.
- Be sure all employees know which methods of communication to use in the event that you need to enact a workforce continuity plan. Make sure to test your emergency notification system now in case that is needed later.
- Train employees on the risks of exposure to Zika and how to protect themselves.
- Increase pest control at your workplace.
- Provide employees with an EPA-registered insect repellent and encourage them to use it.
- Remove standing water around your workplace and encourage employees to do the same at home – mosquitoes like to breed in stagnant water.
- Provide employees with and/or encourage them to wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes with full coverage and socks.
- Tell employees that it is best stay in places with air conditioning or windows and door screens, and to stay inside during peak mosquito hours (between sunrise and sunset).
- Suggest that employees wear clothing with permethrin, a synthetic insecticide (safe for pregnant women and children).
- If possible, delay travel to Zika-affected areas, especially for employees who are or may become pregnant or whose sexual partner may become pregnant (See the U.S. Supreme Court Title VII ruling noted below). View the CDC’s regularly updated list of affected countries and territories by clicking here.
Responding to a Zika Outbreak in Your Area:
- If necessary, enact your reduced workforce plan.
- If any employee is returning from a Zika-affected area, suggest that he/she visit a doctor immediately to get tested for the virus. It is best to be tested regardless of experiencing symptoms since most who are infected show no symptoms. Be cautious of making it a requirement. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a medical exam is only justified if you believe an employee will pose a direct threat to others due to his/her medical condition. Also, requiring an employee who is showing symptoms to work from home could lead to legal liability since there is little risk of transmission.
- If an employee is showing signs of Zika, ask that he/she seek medical treatment immediately. Symptoms include: fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache.
- Allow employees who are pregnant or trying to conceive to choose to delay or not to go on a business trip to Zika-affected areas, but do not take away the option for travel. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that Title VII prohibits employers from not allowing employees to travel based on reproductive health risks.
- When discarding of still water, do not do so in or near your workplace as it could create a static pool and potentially attract mosquitoes. Code compliance officers in Florida recently issued at least one citation after they saw someone discarding of water out of the back of their workplace into the alley.
Recovering From a Zika Outbreak in Your Workplace:
There is currently no vaccination or treatment for Zika virus, but you can provide your employees with information on home measures and other medical treatments. Also, assure your employees that Zika is not airborne and can only be transmitted by mosquito bites, sexual contact or from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Continue to remind and train employees to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
Discuss the organization’s workers compensation policy with employees. It is important to note that if an employee contracts Zika from occupational exposure that the employee is entitled to receive temporary total benefits in lieu of regular pay, as well as medical treatment and compensation for any resulting permanent disability. Protect your organization and your employees by staying up-to-date on the spread of Zika, and the policies and procedures to abide by.