Keeping Your Employees Safe Amid the Zika Scare

Since April 2015, a large, ongoing outbreak of an infection called the Zika virus in Brazil has spread to much of South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. However, if you looked at much of Brazil during the annual Carnival celebration in early 2016, you'd have a hard time guessing that they were in the midst of an outbreak. It was business as usual, with massive parades, dancers, and performers, amid millions of people celebrating. How can this be the case?

The majority of people who become infected with the Zika virus experience no symptoms and no long-term health effects. However, the virus does pose a serious danger to pregnant women. A number of countries have issued travel advisories and are urging women to avoid pregnancy in about two dozen countries in Latin America.

People living in North America who are unfamiliar with the virus may be asking themselves: What is the Zika virus, and what precautions should I take against it?

What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus
The Zika virus is transmitted by a certain kind of mosquito. Because of this, cases of the disease have been concentrated in warmer climates. It is a tropical infection that is relatively new to the Western Hemisphere, which has allowed it to spread quickly. In some very rare cases (just three as of February 2016), the virus has been found to have been transmitted during sex, as well. Due to this, officials recommend that men use condoms for at least four weeks following travel to any of the countries on the advisory list.1

In just one of five cases, a person infected by the Zika virus may experience mild symptoms for up to seven days, such as a fever, joint pain, rash, and red eyes. In pregnant women, the virus is believed to be linked to a rise of cases of the birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly can cause babies to be born with abnormally small heads, leading to potential developmental delays or intellectual deficits.

Knowledge of the Zika virus is still relatively limited. Since the majority of cases are asymptomatic, it poses difficulty in accurately determining the number of infected individuals. Brazil has investigated about 4,000 cases of the virus from October to December 2015, a huge increase from the average 150 cases a year.2 As of February 2016, no cure has been developed yet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which countries are at risk?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued travel advisories for the following countries:
  • Central America: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
  • Caribbean: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Martinique, Barbados, U.S. Virgin Islands, Curacao
  • South America: Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay
How can I keep my employees safe if they need to travel?
Educate your employees on how Zika is transmitted, what the risks are, and means of prevention. CDC advises travelers going to at-risk countries to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, as well as carry repellent to avoid mosquito-based infections.

What if I have an employee who is returning to work from an at-risk country?
The good news is the virus is not spread by person-to-person contact, except in rare cases during sexual intercourse. So even if one of your employees is potentially infected, that person cannot pass the virus along to others. Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy who have recently visited any of these countries should consult a doctor.

Looking Ahead
Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, commercial tests, and preventative drugs to combat infection. While medical knowledge of the Zika virus is far from complete, you can help keep you and your employees aware by following these tips. Until we know more, the best way to combat infection is to stay informed. You can find further information on what is being done about the Zika virus on CDC's website.


Joe Cavaliere ([email protected]) is a writer with Physicians Immediate Care. PIC is an urgent care clinic over 35 locations in the Midwest. Clinics are staffed by doctors, or physician's assistants under the supervision of a doctor, to treat non-life threatening illnesses and injuries.

Posted by Joe Cavaliere on Feb 16, 2016