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CDC and OSHA Issue Interim Guidance to Prevent Workers from Contracting Zika Virus

On Friday, April 22, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set interim guidance for those working in the fields where exposure to the Zika virus is inevitable.

On Friday, April 22, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set interim guidance for those working in the fields where exposure to the Zika virus is inevitable.

Zika virus has been a cause for alarm amongst those residing in Latin America and other infected regions, since 2015. Not only this, but CDC officials foresee the spread of the virus within the continental US with the coming summer weather. In response to the severity of the complications associated with the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the CDC, previously issued travel notices advising individuals, especially pregnant women, whose fetuses are most at risk of developing complications, against traveling to infected regions. Nonetheless, there are those whose professions revolve around exposure to the virus, such as those working in the health field, mosquito-control workers, those who travel frequently for business, and even outdoor workers.

Zika and Healthcare Workers

One of the most important methods of viral infection prevention for those working in the healthcare sector, is the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (including gloves, gowns, masks, and eye protection), since the Zika virus can be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. It is also recommended to follow proper handwashing methods using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs with 60% alcohol specifically, before and after using PPE, coming in contact with a patient or possibly contaminated surfaces.

Furthermore, laboratory officials need to ensure that their facilities meet the appropriate Biosafety Level for all research conducted, especially when handling the Zika virus. All healthcare workers must follow standard operating procedures; proper infection prevention methods must be set in place by officials directing all facilities. Finally, workers must properly dispose of all contaminated needles and sharp objects in puncture-resistant, sealable, and leak-proof containers.

Zika and Mosquito-Control Workers

Those working to control Aedes aegypti mosquito presence are recommended to use effective insect repellentants as well as head gear with mosquito netting that covers the face and neck. Furthermore, clothing should cover exposed skin, and socks should cover the feet and ankles. Permethrin-treated gear is also recommended for individuals at risk of high exposure. Those using strong chemical insecticides may require the use of respirators which meet OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standards.

Zika and Business Travelers

The CDC recommends that employers should be flexible regarding required travel to those areas with active Zika transmission, specifically for pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, or sexual partners of those populations, since they are at highest risk of Zika-related complications.

Zika and Outdoor Workers

Employers are advised to inform their workers of any possible risk of Zika infection and provide equipment and training to help employees protect themselves. Furthermore, all water containers surrounding a work area should be covered to avoid creating a potential mosquito-harboring environment. Unconventional water containers, such as discarded tires, bottles, barrels, and trash bins, should also be covered or removed from the vicinity. Workers who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or whose sexual partners match these criteria should be reassigned to areas where the Zika virus is less of a risk. Outdoor workers are recommended to cover all exposed body parts and use insect repellent to avoid mosquito exposure.

The CDC recommends that any individual who develops Zika-like symptoms seek medical attention. Furthermore, mosquito exposure should be communicated to a healthcare provider. Asymptomatic travelers who previously returned from areas on the CDC’s travel notice list should avoid mosquito exposure for up to 3 weeks to avoid causing a Zika virus outbreak.