To combat the spread of the Zika virus through occupational exposure, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued interim guidelines to protect healthcare workers.
Current evidence suggests that 1 in 5 people with the Zika virus infection develops symptoms. If present, mild symptoms begin 2 to 7 days after receiving a mosquito bite, and can include fever, rash, joint pain, red or pink eyes, myalgia, and headache; typically, symptoms can last for 1 week. During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be spread from an infected person to a mosquito via a mosquito bite. Additional transmission may occur through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected individual.
“Employers and workers in healthcare settings and laboratories should follow good infection control and biosafety practices as appropriate, to prevent or minimize the risk of transmission of infectious agents,” the guidelines stated.
Employers and employees should meet OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen (BBP) standard, and laboratories should ensure that their facilities and practices meet the appropriate Biosafety Level (BSL) for the work being conducted.
“[The] CDC recommends healthcare workers use standard precautions during patient care regardless of suspected or confirmed Zika infection status,” according to the report.
Additional suggestions for healthcare employers and employees are as follows:
Hand hygiene: Wash with soap and water, using alcohol-based hand rubs of at least 60% alcohol content. Wash hands before and after contact with patients or potentially infectious material, and before and after putting on or removing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Lab safety: Do not bend, recap, or removed contaminated needles or sharps. Ensure these items are properly disposed of in closeable, leakproof, puncture-resistant, labeled or color-coded containers. Use sharps only with sharps engineered injury protection (SESIP) to avoid sharps-related injuries. Report all needlesticks, lacerations, and exposures to supervisors as soon as possible.
If an employee becomes infected: The CDC recommends that infected individuals rest, drink fluids, and take acetaminophen for fever and pain reduction. Infected persons should avoid further mosquito bites by covering skin and using an insect repellent containing DEET.
Employers should: Ensure that workers receive prompt and appropriate medical care for suspected Zika infection. If the exposure falls under OSHA’s BBP standard, employers must comply with OSHA medical evaluation and follow-up requirements. Consider options for granting sick leave during the active period of infection.
- Interim guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus [fact sheet]. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Published April 22, 2016. Accessed April 22, 2016.