With Locally Transmitted Zika in the Continental US, Train Your Employees to Protect Themselves
This week, athletes and spectators from more than 200 countries will converge 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. A rising number of cases have also been reported in Florida — which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says are likely the first local transmissions of the virus in the continental United States.
Although health officials have noted that the current seasonal climate in Brazil may help to limit the spread of Zika, organizations with employees traveling 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 mosquitos, 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 CDC also has concluded that a Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.
Protecting Your People
The CDC to date has issued Zika-related travel notices for more than 50 countries and territories, including Brazil. This week, the CDC also took the rare step of advising pregnant women not to travel to an area within the continental United States (Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood).
Travelers to areas with Zika should use mosquito repellant, wear long sleeves and pants, 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 mosquitos carrying Zika. Employers should make employees aware of the CDC’s recommendations to prevent sexual and other blood-borne transmissions of the virus.
Business Continuity and Organizational Resilience
Organizations should take steps to minimize employees’ exposure to Zika in the workplace, including educating employees on mosquito-bite-prevention measures. Organizations 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.
If an employee contracts Zika during the course of employment, workers’ compensation would likely respond. Employers’ liability coverage and foreign voluntary workers’ compensation coverage could also apply, depending on the terms and conditions of the policy.