Keeping Workers Safe from Zika

Preventive measures provided by the CDC.

CDR Jill Shugart is a Senior Environmental Health Specialist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

​You have probably heard of Zika, but did you know that the risks of being affected can vary? You may be more at risk for Zika if you are an outdoor worker or a business traveler in areas with Zika, or a healthcare worker or a laboratorian potentially exposed to Zika.

So, what do you need to know to keep safe on the job in order to protect you and your family from Zika?

Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Additionally, Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy is associated with a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects.  Zika can also be passed through sex from a person with Zika to his or her sex partners.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). However, many people infected with Zika virus won't have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection, and there is no specific treatment for people who become infected.

The mosquitoes that spread Zika bite during both the day and night. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed a series of recommendations for protecting workers from the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OSHA and NIOSH recommend all outdoor workers take these actions to protect themselves from mosquito bites while working in areas with Zika:

  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.
  • Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out sources of standing water (for example, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) at work sites to reduce or eliminate areas where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
  • Even in warm weather, wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin as much as possible. Use insect repellent on any exposed skin.

Laboratorians should:

  • Report all needle sticks, lacerations, and other exposure incidents to a supervisor as soon as possible.  
  • Follow good infection control and biosafety practices.

Business travelers should:

  • Visit CDC's Travelers' Health website for travel information related to Zika. Business travelers should use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and long pants to protect themselves while traveling to or through areas with Zika.
  • Pregnant women should not travel to any area with a current Zika outbreak.

All at-risk workers should:

  • Protect yourself and others during sex. Both men and women can spread Zika through sex, even if they don't have symptoms.
  • If you have symptoms of Zika, seek medical attention promptly. If you have left an area with Zika, be sure to tell your healthcare provider where you have recently traveled.

For more information on how workers can protect themselves, visit the NIOSH Zika topic page and the CDC Zika website. You can also learn more by viewing a seminar posted by the National Safety Council here.

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