The Zika Virus Is Real. How Do You Protect Your Workers?

The Zika Virus Is Real- How Do You Protect Your Workers

You may have heard about it on TV, in travel blogs, or in the news. But what exactly is the Zika virus, and how does it affect your outdoor work force?

Zika is a virus that spreads when a mosquito bites a person with the virus, then bites another person. It can continue to spread when another person comes in direct contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids, such as exposure to infected blood or through sexual transmission.

Four out of five people infected with Zika will probably never know they had the virus. But for one out of those five, Zika can cause symptoms such as rash, fever, and body aches that last a few days. However, the major risk of Zika is not to the adults bitten, but to the unborn child of a bitten pregnant women or her male partner. That’s because if a woman contracts Zika while pregnant, either through a bite or sexual transmission, the virus has been linked to a deadly birth defect called microcephaly that causes brain damage in the unborn fetus. And because so few infected people ever have symptoms, it’s very difficult for pregnant women to know if they were affected until it’s too late. This makes Zika, as you can imagine, a terrifying risk for a lot of people.

Recently, the CDC and OSHA released a “Fact Sheet” to help workers reduce their risk of occupational exposure to Zika. We’ve read the facts and broken them down into simple steps you can take to help protect your employees.

Step One: Find out if Zika is in your area. Go to the CDC’s Zika page to check the map and see if Mosquitoes carrying the virus are living where you work.

Step Two: Give employees the facts. Of course you don’t want anyone to get sick with Zika, but the virus poses an even greater risk for those workers who are trying to grow a family – both women and men. If your employees understand the facts, they may ask to be reassigned to indoor tasks to avoid the risk of a bite completely. This is a request you should take very seriously.

Step Three: Provide insect repellant. One of the best ways to protect against mosquitoes is with bug spray. Provide a repellant for your employees that includes an EPA-approved active ingredient (such as DEET) and be sure to give them ample time to apply it both before and throughout the work day.

Step Four: Encourage and provide protective clothing. Encourage your employees to wear loose-fitting, full-coverage clothing to work. Also, provide protective accessories such as gloves, hats, and mosquito nets for them to wear and return after their shift.

Step Five: Clear your workplace of standing water. Mosquitoes like to gather around water sources, so be aware of places in your worksite where standing water might pool (such as tires, barrels, wheelbarrows, etc.) and clear them out before the day starts.

For other high-risk workers, such as health care, laboratory, mosquito-control workers, or those traveling to Central America for work, different guidelines have been set by the CDC and are available in the fact sheet.


Carrie Charity Murphy is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions and Improve comedienne based in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives with her husband Ben and their two dogs, Sprocket and Ms. Brisby.
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