Zika is causing a scare on a global scale. Everyone cannot help but think about the possible effects of this seemingly harmless virus. Initially, many people did not think much about Zika. The mild symptoms are the reason behind this. Eventually, as more and more people become infected, the Zika threat finally catches a significant amount of attention. Now, people are concerned about contracting the Zika virus in their workplace.
Zika Protection in the Workplace
Thinking about Zika infection in the workplace is very stressful. How can you concentrate on your tasks if you worry about your health constantly? As an employee, you should be protected in the places where you perform your work. Below are some guidelines in protecting employees like you from Zika:
1.Zika Control and Prevention. Preventing mosquito bites is the most important way to keep Zika at bay. If you are an employee, it is best that you personally keep mosquitoes away. Remember that there are no vaccines against Zika. There is also no specialized treatment for those who are infected. Also take note that the virus can also be spread through body fluids such as blood. If you are an employer, you should provide vital information about Zika. Your information should contain the possible links of Zika to birth defects and the modes of viral transmission.
2.Outdoor Workers. The outdoor workers are the ones who are at greatest risk of Zika exposure. Workers who work with infectious materials and insecticides may need more protection such as special types of PPE or personal protective equipment. All employers should comply with the universal precautions for possible BBP (blood borne pathogens) as given in OSHA’s BBP standard.
Here are the things that employers should do for their outdoor workers:
- Teach the outdoor workers how to protect themselves from mosquito bites and other modes of Zika transmissions.
- Provide them with effective mosquito repellents.
- Encourage them to wear clothing over exposed skin including hands and to wear closed shoes and socks.
- Provide them with hats that have mosquito netting to protect their face and neck.
- During warm weather, encourage the workers to wear loose-fitting, light weight clothing.
- Give adequate water supply, shade, and rest.
- Monitor the employees for signs or symptoms of illnesses brought about by heat.
- Eliminate any source of stagnant or standing water, which are breeding sites for mosquitoes.
- Reassign female employees who might be, may become, or is already pregnant to indoor work.
- Reassign any male employee whose partner may become or is pregnant to indoor work.
Below are the things that employees should do:
- Use effective repellents properly.
- Wear clothes that cover legs, ankles, face, neck, and other exposed areas of skin.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-weight clothes.
- Stay hydrated.
- Take breaks under the shade.
- Watch out for any symptoms of illness brought about by heat.
- Eliminate or stay away from stagnant or standing water, which is a breeding area for mosquitoes.
- Inform your employer if you may become or are already pregnant.
- Inform your employer if your female partner may become or is already pregnant.
- If you develop symptoms of Zika, seek medical attention immediately.
- Take note of EPA approved ingredients in repellents such as picaridin or DEET.
- Spray permethrin on the outer part of your clothes.
- Do not spray repellents on cuts, or irritated skin.
- Spray an aerosol repellent on your skin first before applying it on your face, so that you can avoid mucous areas such as your eyes, mouth, or nose.
- When you come inside, wash off you repellent using soap and water. Reapply the repellent before you go out again.
- Do not use products that combine sunscreen and repellent.
- If a rash develops, upon using sunscreen or repellent, stop using it and seek medical attention.
3.Laboratory and Healthcare Workers. Both employees and employers in laboratories and healthcare areas should make sure that they follow biosafety practices and infection control. These include universal precautions. Doing so minimizes the risk and prevents transmission of the Zika virus. Follow precautions which include the following:
- Avoid direct contact with infectious materials such as blood and other body fluids.
- Practice good hygiene, especially proper hand washing.
- Wear protective gear such as eye protection, gloves, and gowns.
- Use hand rubs with 60% alcohol content.
- For soiled hands, use soap and water.
- Wash hands after any contact with infectious materials.
- Wash hands before and after patient contact.
- Wash hands before putting on protective gear and upon removing them.
The NIOSH (National institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) are currently monitoring outbreaks of Zika through the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, Central America, and other US territories. Frequently check the CDC Zika website for more updated information. Employees who are frequently exposed to infectious materials and mosquitoes at work are at high risk for occupationally acquired Zika infection.
What employers should ensure for their workers:
- Make sure that the SOPs (standard operating procedures) are followed in the workplace.
- Use work practices and engineering controls to prevent exposure to infectious materials.
- Contaminated sharp objects should not be bent or recapped. They should be removed and disposed properly by placing them in leak proof, closable, color-coded, puncture-resistant, and labeled containers.
- All exposure incidents such as lacerations and puncture wounds should be reported to supervisors immediately.
- All sharps should be used with SESIP (sharps with engineered sharps injury protection) to avoid any injuries related to sharps.
4.Workers of Mosquito Control. Workers who help control mosquitoes should follow the same precautions for those who work outdoors. Additional protection may be applicable to them depending on the tasks assigned to them. Those who work in areas with dense populations or mosquitoes (places with stagnant water such as ponds), may need more skin protection to ward off mosquitoes. Workers who handle insecticides should wear additional protection. Workers who conduct operations for mosquito control should have respirators. Employers should monitor the use of respirators by employers that operate vehicles. This is to ensure that the respirators do not inhibit the worker’s safe operation of the vehicle.
Guidance for Employers Whose Workers are Diagnosed or Suspected with Zika
Everyone should do the following:
- Get more than enough rest.
- Relieve pain and fever with medications such as acetaminophen.
- Avoid NSAIDs such as naproxen, aspirin, or ibuprofen because of bleeding risks that occur with flavaviruses.
- Avoid mosquito bites to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
- Abstain from sexual activity or use condoms from start to finish of any sexual activity.
- Talk to your physician before you take any prescription medications for any other medical conditions.
All employers should do the following:
- Train all workers to seek medical attention if they develop Zika symptoms.
- Make sure that exposed workers and employers are aware of Zika symptoms.
- Be prepared to grant sick leave during the worker’s infectious period.
- Employers should protect other workers during the first leave of Zika infection.
- Employers should be open to employee complaints about safety in the workplace.
If Assigned to Travel in a Zika Affected Area
Work can be demanding. Many companies often require or assign selected employees to travel to other countries. What if you are assigned or required to go to a Zika affected area? That can be a very difficult choice to make, considering how Zika affects people on a global scale. The best thing you can do (employer or employee) is to follow the CDC’s guide for traveling to Zika affected areas.
Those who have operations related to travel such as those who work in cruise lines and airlines should be protected appropriately. Flexibility should be provided by employers to their workers who travel to Zika affected areas. Those employees who are deeply concerned about the reproductive effects of Zika should be assigned elsewhere or should be allowed to have delayed travel, especially if they could become or are pregnant already. CDC actually advises pregnant women in their third trimester not to travel to Zika affected places. The CDC Zika Travel Information can help employers and workers in establishing precautions in traveling or in scheduling plans.
Returning travelers should prevent mosquito bites even if they do not feel sick at all. They should prevent mosquito bites for about three weeks to make sure that they do not pass on the Zika virus to the uninfected mosquitoes in their area.
Protecting Others and Yourself from the Zika Virus
All you need to do is follow these steps to help protect your community, your family, your friends, and yourself from Zika infection:
1.Avoid being bit by mosquitoes. Zika’s primary mode of infection is through the bite of a Zika infected mosquito. The Aedes species of mosquito is the vector for Zika. It is a day- and night- biting mosquito. Essentially, you need to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Follow the steps needed in controlling mosquitoes outside and inside your home and workplace.
2.Plan when you travel. You should know that there are Zika outbreaks happening in various territories and countries. It will continue to spread all over the world and it is very hard to determine where and how it will spread as months or years pass. It is best for you to plan before and after you leave. You should also review travel notices and use protection during sexual activities.
3.Protect yourself during intercourse. It has been established that Zika can be passed on from one person to another. Zika can survive longer in bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal discharge, semen, and urine. You can use condoms to protect yourself from beginning to the end of the sexual activity, even when you share sex toys. Condoms can decrease the possibility of acquiring Zika from intercourse. Abstaining from sex eliminates the risk of contracting Zika. Dental dams (made of polyurethane sheets or latex) can be used during oral sex.
4.Protect other people. During the first week of Zika infection, the virus is present in the blood, actively ready to infect another person. An uninfected mosquito can be infected by biting an infected human. The infected mosquito can then transmit the virus by biting an uninfected human. You should also use condoms during sexual activities, even in sharing sex toys.
How You Can Protect Yourself and Others
Below are some essential ways to protect yourself and other people from Zika:
- Choose the right mosquito repellent. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends repellents with IR 3535, DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus as active ingredients. DEET is the standard ingredient. The CDC also advises against the use of peppermint oil, citronella oil, geranium oil, pure oil of lemon eucalyptus, cedar oil, soybean oil, and peppermint.
- Apply the repellent the right way. Apply your repellent after applying sunscreen. Never wear repellent underneath your clothes. The repellent will not be able to evaporate. It will only accumulate on the fabric. Avoid applying your repellent on any wound. Concentrate on applying repellent on your feet and ankles because the Aedes species are attracted to that area of your body. If you have children to protect, spray repellent on your hands first before applying on the child’s skin. Make sure you avoid the mucous areas of the child’s face (mouth and eyes). Use the repellent sparingly on the ear area. Use repellents which have DEET with about 30% or higher. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children below three years of age. Any repellent should not be used on infants below two months of age. Just protect them using mosquito netting.
- Protect with your clothes. Always wear loose-fitting, light colored clothes, closed shoes, sunglasses, and hats.
- Prepare your work area. Be mindful of any stagnant water in your workplace. Take note that even a tablespoon of water is enough to serve as breeding ground for mosquitoes. Stagnant water around plants, water bottles, and plastic containers need to be checked and disposed to make sure that you are not going to be bitten in your work area.
The workplace is considered the second home for most people. Employers and employees should work together in determining the best means to prevent Zika infection in and around the work area. Doing so is a great contribution in fighting this scary disease.