You may remember news reports about the Zika virus outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean back in 2015. Well now, officials are becoming increasingly concerned about a wider spread across the Western Hemisphere. At the end of July, the first local mosquito infection cases were confirmed in Florida. Though the threat may seem inconsequential for workers in San Diego, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns the virus could spread rapidly throughout densely populated areas in the Americas, and estimates that there could be as many as four million Zika-related cases within the next year.
Now that the threat of Zika virus is closer to home, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun developing guidelines for employers to help them protect workers from occupational exposure to mosquitoes. Here’s what you need to know about Zika virus and the workplace.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is primarily spread by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. However, the disease can also be transmitted sexually, through blood transfusions, and from a pregnant mother to her fetus. About 20 percent of those who contract Zika become ill, with symptoms surfacing between two and seven days after infection. Signs of Zika virus can include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and development of Guillain-Barre. Infection during pregnancy has also been shown to cause birth defects.
How To Protect Yourself from Zika Virus on the Job
Those who work outdoors are at a significant risk for Zika virus exposure. If you spend a majority of your workday outside, it’s important to take preventative measures to ensure you’re protected from mosquito bites.
Use insect repellant containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Wear clothing that covers exposed skin, including your hands and ankles. Consider wearing a hat with mosquito netting to protect your face and neck. Wear loose-fitting clothing, which provides a barrier to mosquitoes.
What To Do if You Are Infected with Zika Virus
If you experience any of the symptoms of Zika virus, take care of yourself as you would with any other illness. Get enough rest, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen, to reduce fever and pain as needed. To help prevent those around you from contracting Zika, take the proper measures to avoid mosquito bites during the first week of infection. Most importantly, alert your employer and seek medical treatment at the first signs of illness.
Your Employer’s Responsibilities
If your job requires you to work outdoors, it is your employer’s job to reduce exposure to Zika virus. Preventative measures may include providing workers with insect repellant, removing sources of standing water from the jobsite to eliminate mosquito breeding areas, and encouraging workers to wear clothing that covers exposed skin. Additionally, your employer should make sure that all employees are aware of the risks of Zika and train them to seek treatment if they develop symptoms.
Employers should also be mindful of employees who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, as well as pregnant spouses of employees who have jobs that put them at risk for contracting Zika. If requested by a worker, an employer should consider reassigning any such employees to indoor tasks to minimize their risk of mosquito bites.
If you see something that could put you and other workers at risk of contracting Zika virus, say something. Under law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about the safety and health conditions of a jobsite. Workers who experience such discrimination can submit a formal complaint to OSHA within 30 days.
Do You Suspect You Were Infected with Zika Virus on the Job?
If you contract Zika virus during the course of employment, you are entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits as someone who was injured on the job. This includes coverage of all medical costs, lost wages while you’re unable to work, and even death benefits. The same benefits also apply if you become infected with Zika while traveling for business outside of the U.S.
At the Law Offices of Gerald D. Brody & Associates, we strive to stay current on Zika virus and its implications in the workplace. If you contract Zika virus on the job and are unsure as to whether you qualify for workers’ compensation, call us. We’ll fight hard on your behalf to ensure you receive the benefits you need to get better.