Mitigating the Risks of Zika
By Angelica Hamilton
Jennifer Hardwick, pandemics and global health analyst at OSAC, recently gave a webinar on the Zika virus titled “Zika and Mosquito-Borne Illness: What Companies Need to Know.” The webinar recording is available here; MAPI members can log in to download the slides.
Jennifer noted that humans are the primary food source for the mosquitoes that carry Zika and scientists are still researching how the virus works and what symptoms it causes. The Zika virus should be on your radar if you travel to affected areas or have contact with or have responsibilities to pregnant women, newborns, immunosuppressed individuals, people who are homeless or destitute, or the elderly.
A few highlights from the webinar:
- 4 million people could be infected with Zika by the end of this year, but only 20% would manifest any symptoms; 1 in 4 infections in the first quarter of this year occurred in Brazil
- Mosquitoes rarely fly further than a couple of hundred feet from where they hatched
- The CDC and WHO are reliable sources for Zika information, as is the OSHA “Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus”
- People cannot get Zika from the water supply
- If a pregnant woman travels to a country with Zika, her fetus will not automatically become infected, even if she does contract Zika
- Zika is not a pandemic; it is an epidemic in the Western Hemisphere with a few outbreaks in Oceania and one in Africa
- Many people infected with the Zika virus don’t even know they have it because they have mild symptoms or none at all. Symptoms tend to last from a couple of days to a week, can sometimes be quite uncomfortable, and can resemble other diseases transmitted by Aedes mosquito
- People with symptoms and with a link to regions where the Zika virus is prevalent are urged to consult a physician
- The incubation period is unknown but it is likely about a few days to one week. 20% of the population that contracts the virus will become noticeably ill
- Zika does not generally require hospitalization. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, conjunctivitis, joint pain, muscle pain, and headache. Since there is no vaccine, treat the symptoms with rest, fluid hydration, and fever management
- The WHO has said there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a very rare neurological disorder. Symptoms include weakness of arms and legs, usually on one side of the body. It can cause death or paralysis if left untreated. Most people fully recover from GBS. Researchers do not fully understand what causes GBS
Webinar attendees submitted questions before and during the webinar. Jennifer’s answers are summarized below.
What can companies do to mitigate the risks of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses for employees?
- Recommend ways to prevent mosquito bites
- Direct employees to the CDC and WHO for information on Zika
- Permit employees to defer travel or relocate from countries where Zika is reported
- Encourage employees to consult a doctor prior to travel
Is it true that this type of mosquito stays closer to the ground and the greatest risk of getting bitten would be around ankles, feet, and legs?
It is true that they stay closer to the ground, but don’t rely on that for prevention. Protect every area head to toe.
What advice do you give for prevention and travel precautions?
- Pack a first aid kit
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites
- Use insect repellants
- Wear long, light-colored clothes
- Sleep in rooms that are screened in and air-conditioned
Can mosquitoes in the U.S. transmit the virus?
Yes. There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes overall; 175 of them are found in the United States. Texas has the most with 85 followed closely by Florida with 80. Aedes aegypti mosquitos have even been found on Capitol Hill.
It is believed but not confirmed that infected females cannot pass Zika to her eggs. It’s not known whether some people may be immune to Zika altogether.
There is still so much we don’t know about the virus. Recent news reports include a case in Utah where someone contracted Zika but apparently not through a mosquito or sexual contact and the first identified case of female to male sexual transmission. Detroit Tigers pitcher Francisco Rodriguez told ESPN he was significantly ill for two weeks after contracting Zika during the offseason in Venezuela.
- OSAC’s website
- The CDC’s Zika homepage
- The WHO’s Zika homepage
- MAPI webinar recording: Zika and Mosquito-Borne Illnesses: What Companies Need to Know
- MAPI blog post: Fact or Fiction? The Zika Virus
Thanks to OSAC Pandemics and Global Health Analyst Jennifer Hardwick for her expertise about #Zika and international travel.