Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus

What Employers Need to Know about Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus

Indianapolis employee benefits advisor, American Health & Wellness Group discusses what employers need to know about Zika and protecting workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are monitoring the Zika virus outbreak spreading through Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean, including U.S. territories. For the most up-to-date information, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zika website frequently.

Some U.S. states have mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika virus, and travel associated Zika virus infections in U.S. states may result in local spread of the virus. Visit the CDC Areas with Zika website to learn where there is current transmission. Workers who are exposed on the job to mosquitoes or the blood or other body fluids of infected individuals may be at risk for occupationally acquired Zika virus infection. This interim guidance provides employers and workers with information and guidance on preventing occupational exposure to the Zika virus. The guidance may be updated as additional information becomes available.

What is Zika and how does it spread?

Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can become infected when they bite infected persons and can then spread the Zika virus to other persons they subsequently bite.

Zika virus historically has been found in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The first case was identified in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. In 2015, cases of Zika virus infection emerged in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Zika virus has the potential to spread anywhere that mosquitoes capable of spreading this virus are found. Aedes species mosquitoes are a principal vector (i.e., carrier) of Zika virus in the U.S. Aedes aegypti (commonly known as yellowfever mosquitoes) are typically concentrated in the southern U.S. as well as parts of the Southwest. Another vector for Zika virus is Aedes albopictus (commonly known as Asian Tiger mosquitoes), which are found in much of the southern and eastern part of the U.S. Aedes mosquitoes can also carry other arboviruses, including dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile. CDC provides information about surveillance of Aedes mosquitoes in the U.S.

Control and Prevention of Zika

Control and prevention in areas affected by Zika virus transmission, protect yourself and others from possible exposure to Zika virus by always taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus and there is no specific treatment for individuals who become infected. Although Zika virus is generally spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes, exposure to an infected person’s blood or other body fluids (such as semen through sexual transmission) may also result in transmission. Employers should train workers about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and direct contact with infectious blood and other body fluids and how to protect themselves. Employers should also provide information about Zika virus infection, including modes of transmission and possible links to birth defects, to workers who are pregnant or may become pregnant or whose zika-virus-symptomssexual partners are or may become pregnant.

Outdoor workers may be at the greatest risk of exposure to Zika virus. Some workers, including those working with insecticides to control mosquitoes and healthcare workers who may be exposed to contaminated blood or other potentially infectious materials from individuals infected with Zika virus, may require additional protections (e.g., certain types of personal protective equipment, PPE). Employers must comply with universal precautions for potential bloodborne pathogens (BBP) exposures, as described in OSHA’s BBP standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), and any applicable requirements in OSHA’s PPE standards (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), among other OSHA requirements. Consult the CDC Zika website for the most up-todate information to help employers implement effective worker protections.

Recommended employer actions for outdoor workers:

  • Inform workers about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and train them how to protect themselves. Check the CDC Zika website to find Zika-affected areas.
  • Provide insect repellents and encourage their use according to the guidance below.
  • Provide workers with, and encourage them to wear, clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.
  • In warm weather, encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects workers against the sun’s harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes. Always provide workers with adequate water, rest and shade, and monitor workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness.
  • Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas. Train workers about the importance of eliminating areas where mosquitos can breed at the worksite.
  • If requested by a worker, consider reassigning anyone who indicates she is or may become pregnant, or who is male and has a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito bites.

General Guidance for Employers of Workers with Suspected or Confirmed Zika

CDC advises individuals, including workers, infected with Zika virus to:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.
  • Avoid taking aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs because of rare cases of bleeding occurring with flaviviruses and these medications.
  • Talk to a healthcare provider before taking any medications, including prescriptions, for other medical conditions.
  • To help prevent others from getting sick, avoid mosquito bites during the first week of infection. Wearing clothing that covers skin and using insect repellents can help prevent mosquito bites.
  • To help prevent transmission to partners via sexual contact, abstain from sexual activity or use condoms during sexual activity during and following infection. For specific recommendations to prevent sexual transmission, please visit the CDC Zika and Sexual Transmission website.

Employers should:

  • 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.
  • Assure that workers receive prompt and appropriate medical evaluation and followup after a suspected exposure to Zika virus.

Recommended worker actions:

  • Use insect repellents according to the label precautions and guidance.
  • Wear clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Wear hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck. Wear socks that cover the ankles and lower legs.
  • In warm weather, wear lightweight, loosefitting clothing. This type of clothing protects workers against the sun’s harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes.
  • Drink plenty of water, take rest breaks in shaded areas, and watch for signs and symptoms of heat illness, including in coworkers.
  • Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
  • Talk to your supervisor(s) about any outdoor work assignment(s) if you are or may become pregnant, or, for males, if your sexual partner is or may become pregnant. Such workers should be familiar with CDC information on Zika virus and pregnancy.
  • If symptoms develop, seek medical attention promptly. Discuss any possible exposure to mosquitoes or infections spread by mosquitoes with a healthcare provider.

For more information on Zika, visit the CDC’s Zika website.

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