The Facts

Zika is real and has spread to the United States. The following summarizes what we know about this virus.

  • Transmission occurs mainly through the bite of a carrier Aedes mosquito but it can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected individual.  The incubation period is unknown but thought to be only a few days.
  • More importantly, it can be transmitted to a fetus through exposure to blood and bodily fluids during childbirth.
  • The CDC has stated openly that the Zika virus poses no real threat to healthy individuals.  The problem is it can cause significant harm to unborn children, similar to the Rubella virus.
  • Symptoms in healthy individuals range from none at all to mild fever, skin rash, joint paint and flu-like malaise.  As eye doctors, the important sign is a mild, non-specific conjunctivitis.
  • Treatment is prevention and palliative efforts to relieve symptoms.  Pregnant women suspected of having a Zika exposure should contact their obstetrician.

The Liabilities

Although Zika poses little concern or harm for healthy individuals, the potential harm to the unborn raises significant concern.  As a health care provider, you are liable under OSHA and CDC rules to have policies in place in an attempt to stop the spread of infection.  You also have an obligation to educate your employees on the risk of all disease transmissible in a health care setting.

OSHA has stated there is no reason to stop employees from traveling outside the United States or restrict employees from coming back to work who have traveled outside the United States.  OSHA rules also do not allow an employee to refuse to perform their job based on Zika concerns unless there is belief of “imminent death or serious injury”, which does not pertain to Zika except in rare situations.

Additional information on the Zika virus can be obtained on the OSHA website –  Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus (OSHA – DTSEM FS-3855).