August 2016 – Zika Virus: Protecting the Workforce
Zika virus is making headlines all over the United States. It can be spread anywhere mosquitoes are biting but particular areas of concern include the deep South and Southwest U.S. and of course, international destinations south of the U.S. border. It is named for the Zika Forest in Uganda, Africa – where it was first observed in 1947. The virus became a concern in the Americas and Caribbean in 2015 – and it’s possibly linked to a birth defect (microcephaly) when a pregnant woman is exposed.. Presently there are many unanswered questions regarding Zika virus; but there is no medical treatment, or vaccine so prudent steps should be taken to limit employee exposure. OSHA, NIOSH and CDC have each released guidance documents that can be reviewed for more detailed and specific information.
The primary means of transmission for Zika virus is mosquito bites. There is also thought to be risk from blood transfusions from or sexual contact with infected individuals. Aside from these special contact forms of transmission – the best way to protect yourself from Zika virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Though the symptoms are thought to be mild, including fever, rash, joint or muscle pain and red or pink eyes – immediate treatment by healthcare professionals is critical to ensure prompt reporting, minimize transmission, and allow for best outcome.
Follow these tips to help protect workers engaged in outdoor activities:
Instruct workers in the hazards associated with Zika virus, the routes of transmission, etc.
Always use outdoor insect repellent and be sure to follow the directions provided by the manufacturer completely.
Keep exposed skin covered by using light-weight long pants, long sleeves, gloves, and hat. Consider use of mosquito netting over face. This type of clothing can protect against mosquito bites and protect against harmful UV rays associated with sun exposure.
Where possible, remove any sources of standing water which can act as breeding ground for mosquitoes – discarded tires, buckets, barrels, etc. Fewer mosquitoes mean fewer bites.
Speak to your supervisor if you are or plan to become pregnant; this goes for male workers too. Workers such as these could be in need of temporary job transfer to prevent risk to fetus.
This is a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus. Note the blue-stained virus cells. Information Sources: OSHA, NIOSH, CDC
Photo Credit: CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith