West Nile Virus: Are You Doing Your Best to Reduce the Risk to Your Employees?

As a manager, you've been compliant—from workplace safety posters to regular training and proper equipment. You've done all that's required to protect your employees while on the job. But what happens when there's an environmental issue you cannot protect your employees against? All organizations have the duty to ensure that employees and any other person who may be affected by the organization's activities remain safe at all times. However, when it comes to mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, both employers and employees must be vigilant to aid in reducing the risk of these illnesses.

We all know that a mosquito's buzz can bring down barbecues, camping trips, and Little League games—but what about its effects on your business and employees? The important safety and health implications of these pests are too often overlooked in the context of work, even in the face of growing concerns about mosquito-borne illnesses. However, as issues like West Nile virus continue to dominate headlines across the country, it is important that business executives and managers think carefully about how they can mitigate mosquitoes in and around their facilities for the well-being of their staff.

What Are the Threats?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile virus, a seasonal mosquito-transmitted virus (the virus first hit North America in 1999) that peaks in summer and continues into the fall, can cause serious disease. A major challenge that business owners have encountered in recent months with West Nile is proper education on the virus: how it spreads and how to protect employees who spend the majority of their working hours outdoors. While we know that most people infected with West Nile virus won't show any symptoms, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in five people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms and fewer than 1 percent of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness.

When it comes to risk, we know that people over 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms if they're infected. We also know that being outside around dusk and during the evening greatly increases your risk. Quite simply, the more time your employees spend outside, the higher their risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito. While you can't change the nature or environment of their work, you can take steps to ensure your employees are doing all they can to protect themselves while in the field.

Because only certain species of mosquitoes can spread the West Nile virus, it is important to communicate to employees effectively about the risk while not increasing worries beyond a reasonable level. Business owners who have questions about West Nile or other mosquito-borne illnesses should work with a pest management professional in their community to learn more about which mosquito species are present in their area and how they might affect employees.

What Should Managers Do?
Business owners should contact a pest management professional who can work with them to evaluate their situation, find areas of their facilities and surrounding grounds that might be serving as ideal mosquito breeding grounds, and develop a plan of action. Entomological experts can assess these areas and determine the best course of action, as well as provide strategic approaches that are best suited to manage mosquito populations.

One example of a promising solution for many business owners is Terminix's Attractive Targeted Sugar Bait (ATSB) mosquito service, which is non-toxic and safe for use in both residential as well as business settings. The active ingredient in the ATSB solution is garlic oil, which is combined with sugar from natural sources to attract mosquitoes. ATSB has been shown to reduce mosquito populations by more than 90 percent in just three weeks.

Facilities managers can also take action themselves by conducting common-sense preventive activities. Facility owners should be mindful of opportunities inside and around their business for mosquitoes to breed, particularly by eliminating areas of standing water. Business owners should keep vegetation, such as plants, grass, and trees, well trimmed to ensure that they are not creating ideal homes for these pests.

In addition to stopping mosquitoes from breeding, facility owners can mitigate the potential for mosquitoes to affect themselves and their staff. Employees working in outdoor areas or in facilities with mosquito challenges should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent bites, and consider using an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Business owners may also consider using box fans to keep mosquitoes away since they are relatively weak fliers and will find it difficult to land against the fan's gusts.

Keeping the Bite out of the Bottom Line
Business owners have a responsibility to ensure they mitigate pest issues in and around their facilities for the health and safety of their employees. To do so, they should talk to a pest management professional about the steps they can take independently, as well as advanced entomological solutions that will address mosquito populations in a safe and non-toxic manner.

To reduce the risk of infection for employees, facility managers should take the following actions:

  • Contact a pest management professional from a trusted provider to evaluate facility and grounds and identify mosquito breeding grounds and hot spots.
  • Ensure that common-sense measures, such as eliminating standing water and keeping vegetation well kept, are implemented on a regular basis.
  • Communicate efforts to employees and colleagues and ensure they know steps they can take to protect themselves against mosquito bites, such as wearing insect repellent and long-sleeved shirts.

Dr. Stan Cope is the director of Entomology and Regulatory Services for Terminix International, a ServiceMaster company, and president of the American Mosquito Control Association. Reach him at [email protected].

Posted on Sep 23, 2016

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