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With Risk of Zika Growing, Train Your Employees to Protect Themselves

Posted by Chandra Seymour 12 August 2016

Last week, athletes and spectators from more than 200 countries converged in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. But this year’s games take place amid a global public health emergency: The Zika virus outbreak, which accelerated after reaching Brazil, has now spread to more than 60 countries. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was no evidence of Zika virus transmission in Europe to date, as the virus continues to spread in the Americas, the likelihood of travel-related cases in the EU is increasing.

Although health officials have noted that the current seasonal climate in Brazil may help to limit the spread of Zika, organisations with employees travelling to or from Brazil or other countries where Zika has been reported should take steps to protect their people and operations.

The Risk of Zika

The Zika virus spreads primarily through the bites of infected Aedes species mosquitoes, although there have been confirmed reports of sexual and other transmission of the virus. Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, or red eyes. Symptoms typically last for several days to a week after exposure to the virus. The WHO has stated that there is scientific consensus that a Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe foetal brain defects.

Protecting Your People

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to date has warned of locally-transmitted Zika virus cases in more than 50 countries and territories, including Brazil. Travellers to areas with Zika should use mosquito repellent, wear long sleeves and trousers, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens. Similar precautions should be taken for up to three weeks after returning from areas known to have mosquitoes carrying Zika. Employers should make employees aware of the ECDC recommendations to prevent sexual and other blood-borne transmissions of the virus.

Business Continuity and Organisational Resilience

Organisations should take steps to minimise employees’ exposure to Zika in the workplace, including educating employees on mosquito-bite-prevention measures. Organisations should also review business continuity and other response and crisis management plans related to operational risks presented by Zika, including:

  • Supply chain disruptions.
  • Workforce reductions, particularly employees in critical roles.
  • Employees telecommuting or working from other locations.
  • Insurance Considerations

If an employee contracts Zika during the course of employment, employers’ liability,coverage and foreign voluntary workers’ compensation coverage could apply, depending on the terms and conditions of the policy.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Chandra Seymour

Senior Vice President, MRC Reputational Risk and Crisis Management