Zika Virus: A Proactive Approach

For the first time in 2015, cases of Zika virus infection emerged in the Americas and the Caribbean. In the past, Zika virus historically had only been found in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The virus, named for its discovery in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947, poses an ongoing risk to employers and employees alike.

Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can become infected when they bite an infected person and can then spread the virus to other people they subsequently bite. In Zika-affected areas, it’s crucial to protect yourself and others from possible exposure by always taking steps to prevent and avoid mosquito bites. There’s no vaccine to prevent Zika virus and there’s no specific treatment for individuals who become infected.

Global companies, and companies who have boots in the ground internationally, should take special precaution with employees. It’s important to understand that women who are pregnant are at a higher risk with Zika virus. Employers should carefully communicate this specific risk to everyone and be sure to not discriminate. In addition, employers can’t require a medical test to see if employees who recently traveled to affected regions have the virus. Medical tests can only be required if there’s an imposed threat on the workplace – Zika virus has not become a threat at this point.

According to the CDC, people typically infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms.

The most common symptoms of Zika are:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

Zika is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Symptoms of Zika are similar to other viruses spread through mosquito bites, like dengue and chikungunya.

As an employer, you should be doing the following to take a proactive approach against Zika virus:

  • Ensure that supervisors, and all potentially exposed workers, are aware of the symptoms of Zika.
  • Train workers to seek medical evaluation if they develop symptoms of Zika.
  • Ensure that workers receive prompt and appropriate medical evaluation and follow-up after suspected exposure to Zika virus. If the exposure falls under OSHA’s BBP standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), employers must comply with medical evaluation and follow-up requirements in the standard.
  • Consider options for granting sick leave during the infectious period. The CDC’s website has a great outline on tips for employers and employees during the first week of Zika virus illness.