Question of the Week: How Can I Protect Employees From Zika Virus?

zika virusNow that the weather is getting warmer, we’re starting to see mosquitoes in the outdoor areas of our facility and I’m concerned about the spread of Zika virus. How can I protect the people who work in and around our facility from exposure?

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are monitoring the Zika virus outbreak spreading through Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean. It’s true that as the weather gets warmer in more northern climates, it’s possible the virus could spread to those areas.

Zika virus has the potential to spread anywhere that mosquitoes capable of spreading the virus are found, confirms a new fact sheet from OSHA and NIOSH. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is more likely to spread viruses such as Zika than the Aedes alopictus mosquito. See the CDC’s estimated ranges for both types of mosquito below:

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About one in five people infected with Zika develop symptoms, usually beginning 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Also, employees exposed to mosquitoes or the blood or bodily fluids of infected people may be at risk for occupationally acquired Zika infection.

Zika virus symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red or pink eyes, are usually mild, and can last 2-7 days. Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain. There is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus and no specific treatment for people who become infected.

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(Photo: James Gathany/CDC)

With that in mind, it’s very important to take steps to prevent mosquito bites. OSHA and NIOSH recommended that employers:

  • Inform employees about their risk of exposure to Zika virus and train them to protect themselves;
  • Provide insect repellants and encourage their use;
  • Provide employees with clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and exposed skin;
  • In warm weather, encourage employees to wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing that protects against the sun and provides a barrier to mosquitoes;
  • Get rid of sources of standing water whenever possible to reduce mosquito breeding areas;
  • At the request of an employee, consider reassigning to indoor tasks women who indicate they are or may become pregnant, or men whose partners may become pregnant; and
  • Encourage employees to seek medical attention promptly if symptoms develop.

The full Fact Sheet, “Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus” is available online.

What are your concerns or experiences with preventing the spread of Zika virus and other illnesses in and around your facility? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.