Federal government agencies have released interim guidance to provide employers and workers information and advice on preventing occupational exposure to the Zika virus.
The focus of the seven-page guidance, released April 22 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control, is on preventing mosquito bites and exposure to potentially Zika-infected individuals by business travelers, outdoor workers, healthcare and laboratory workers, and mosquito control employees.
According to the guidance, the Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitos. No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus infection, and there is no specific treatment for people who become infected. Although the Zika virus is primarily spread by infected mosquitos, exposure to an infected person’s blood or other body fluids also can result in transmission. The most common symptoms of Zika infection are fever, rash, joint pain, and red or pink eyes, which appear in approximately one in five infected people from two to seven days after being bitten. Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache.
During the first week of infection, the Zika virus can be detected in the blood and can be spread from an infected person to a mosquito that feeds on that person. Infected mosquitos, in turn, can pass on the virus to other people through bites. In some instances, direct contact with an infected person’s blood or other body fluids, including semen through sexual transmission, also may result in virus transmission. The virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to serious illnesses, including a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly, in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to other babies of the same sex and age.
Business travelers should be aware that, in the Western Hemisphere, active transmission of the Zika virus has been reported in countries throughout Central America, including Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and much of South America. Zika also has been found in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Mosquitos known to carry the virus are found in much of the southern and eastern parts of the United States.
The guidance recommends that pregnant women refrain from traveling to areas with active Zika virus transmission. In addition, the agencies suggest that employers consider being flexible with workers concerned about Zika virus exposure regarding required travel to these areas, including delaying such travel, especially for workers who are or may become pregnant or whose sexual partners may become pregnant.
Employers and workers in healthcare settings and laboratories are advised to follow standard infection control and biosafety practices (including universal precautions) as appropriate. Mosquito control workers may require additional precautions — more protective clothing and enhanced skin protection — beyond those recommended for general outdoor workers. When applying insecticides, these workers may require respirators, worn in accordance with OSHA’s respirator standard, the agencies said. If symptoms develop, officials advise workers to seek medical attention promptly. Updates on the Zika virus will be posted at www.cdc.gov/zika.