What You Should Know About Zika Virus

With the emergence of “home grown” Zika virus in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties of Florida, OSHA has recently posted interim guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus.  First identified in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, cases of Zika virus infection emerged in 2015 in the Americas and the Caribbean.  The virus is spread by Aedes species mosquitoes which are mostly concentrated in temperate climates.  Transmission of the Zika virus primarily occurs from the bite of an infected mosquito but can also occur from direct contact with infectious blood or bodily fluid and from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy and delivery.  Infection during pregnancy can cause brain abnormalities such as microcephaly.  Symptoms of infection typically last seven days and include fever, headache, joint pain, rash, and red or pink eyes.

The Control and Prevention section of OSHA’s interim guidance provides recommended actions for outdoor workers, healthcare and laboratory workers, and mosquito control workers.  Additionally, information is provided on the safe use of insect repellents along with reference to the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard, personal protective equipment standards, and respiratory protection standard.  Recommended actions for outdoor workers include:

  • Using insect repellent
  • Wearing light-weight clothing and a hat with netting to conceal exposed skin
  • Getting rid of sources of standing water
  • Talking with supervisors on outdoor work assignments and becoming familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information on Zika and pregnancy
  • Seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms develop

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OSHA has published a QuickCard titled Zika Virus Protection for Outdoor Workers that is also available in Spanish.

The Zika Virus Exposures/Cases section offers general guidance for employers of workers with suspected or confirmed Zika with a link to the CDC Zika and Sexual Transmission website.   Recommended actions for employers include:

  • Informing employees of the symptoms of Zika
  • Training workers to seek medical evaluation if Zika symptoms develop
  • Ensuring workers with suspected exposure receive prompt and appropriate medical evaluation and follow-up
  • Considering options for granting employee sick leave during the infectious period

While a number of research companies are feverishly working on a vaccine for Zika with human clinical trials possibly occurring in 2016, it may be several years before the headline news reads “Eureka, a Cure for Zika!”  Until then, employers and employees have a shared responsibility to take appropriate precautions to avoid occupational exposure to Zika virus.  For more information on bloodborne pathogen control, PPE, and respiratory protection, check out the resources available in the MEMIC Safety Director.