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A Zika Update and Outlook for 2016

In our March issue of Lifelines, we covered some key facts about Zika, including the virus’ link to microcephaly in babies, personal prevention tips and recommendations for employers.

Over the last few months, the Zika situation has continued to evolve. The virus took the life of its first U.S. citizen – a Puerto Rican man in his 70s who suffered internal bleeding after contracting the disease (for more see “What Is ITP?” at the end of the article). The White House also shifted half a billion dollars of unspent Ebola funding to Zika research.

With these developments in mind, here’s the latest on the Zika virus and its projected impact on the U.S. in 2016:

New Joint OSHA/CDC Guidance

LIUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan
LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus. In addition to recommending workers wear insect repellent and clothing that covers exposed skin, the document recommends that employers:

  • Provide information to workers on transmission methods and possible links to birth defects.
  • Train workers about their risks for exposure and how to protect themselves.
  • Follow OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard for healthcare workers and others who may come in contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids.

“Like we did with Ebola, LIUNA will continue to monitor the spread of Zika and the health risks it presents to LIUNA members and their families,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “That starts by keeping District Councils, Local Unions, members and signatory contractors informed about the risks and what they can do to help avoid them.”

Misconceptions About Zika

A Harvard School of Public Health study found that much of the public is misinformed about several key aspects of the Zika virus:

  1. Perception: “People with Zika are very likely to show symptoms.”Fact: Four out of five people who get Zika don’t show symptoms.
  1. Perception: “I can only get Zika if I’m bitten by an infected mosquito.”Fact: In addition to mosquitos, transmission can occur between pregnant mothers and their unborn children, during sexual contact or during blood transfusions. However, you can’t get the virus from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
  2. Perception: “Getting Zika now could affect me if I get pregnant in the future.”Fact: The CDC believes that once the virus is cleared from your system, there is no risk to future pregnancies. For more on this topic, see the CDC’s Zika and Pregnancy page.
  3. Perception: “Zika won’t be a problem for me. I’ll just get the vaccine.”Fact: There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika virus and no specific treatment for those who become infected.

Potential Spread Through the U.S.

Although there haven’t been any local transmissions of Zika on the U.S. mainland, it’s likely only a matter of time before this happens. NASA recently mapped Zika’s potential spread, labeling most states in the southern half of the U.S. and much of the East Coast as being at moderate to high risk. The map below shows the projected risk through 2016 (here are more detailed seasonal maps by month).

For more updates on Zika in the U.S., follow the CDC’s Areas with Zika page or visit the CDC’s main Zika page.

[Nick Fox]

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