Bottom line is this: Outdoor workers are considered most at risk for Zika infection.
Zika is a mosquito-borne and sexually-transmitted virus. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, which causes temporary paralysis in adults.
OSHA and the CDC have released new guidelines for employers and workers who may be exposed to the Zika virus while working outdoors this year.
Interim guidelines are not legally enforceable, according to OSHA deputy assistant secretary Jordan Barab, who said that advisory guidelines such as this one are typically provided during epidemics and emergency situations.
Here are some of the OSHA / NIOSH and CDC key points:
Recommended employer actions for outdoor workers
- Inform workers about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and train them how to protect themselves. Check the CDC Zika website to find Zika-affected areas.
- Provide insect repellents and encourage their use. See guidance below.
- Provide workers with, and encourage them to wear, clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.
- In warm weather, encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects workers against the sun’s harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes. Always provide workers with adequate water, rest and shade, and monitor workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness
- Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas. Train workers about the importance of eliminating areas where mosquitos can breed at the worksite.
- If requested by a worker, consider reassigning anyone who indicates she is or may become pregnant, or who is male and has a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito bites.
Recommended worker actions:
- Use insect repellents according to the guidance below.
- Wear clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin.
- Wear hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.
- Wear socks that cover the ankles and lower legs.
- In warm weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects workers against the sun’s harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes.
- Drink plenty of water, take rest breaks in shaded areas, and watch for signs and symptoms of heat illness, including in coworkers.
- Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
- Talk to your supervisor(s) about any outdoor work assignment(s) if you are or may become pregnant, or, for males, if your sexual partner is or may become pregnant. Such workers should be familiar with CDC information on Zika virus and pregnancy
Use of insect repellents for employers and workers:
- Always follow label precautions when using insect repellent.
- Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. All of the EPA-registered active ingredients have demonstrated repellency, but some provide longer-lasting protection than others.
Research suggests that repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin (KBR 3023) typically provide longer-lasting protection than the other products, and oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-menthane-3,8-diol) provides longer-lasting protection than other plant-based repellents. Permethrin is another long-lasting repellent that is intended for application to clothing and gear, but not directly to skin.
- Choose a repellent that provides protection for the amount of time that you will be outdoors. In general, the more active ingredient (higher concentration) a repellent contains, the longer it will protect against mosquito bites.
For example, the more DEET a repellent contains, the longer time it can protect you from mosquito bites, with protection times ranging from 1 hour (4.75% DEET) to 5 hours (23.8% DEET). Studies suggest that concentrations of DEET above approximately 50% do not offer a marked increase in protection time against mosquitoes; DEET efficacy tends to plateau at a concentration of approximately 50%.
- Spray insect repellent (permethrin) on the outside of clothing - mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing.
- Do NOT spray insect repellent on skin that is under clothing.
- Do NOT apply insect repellent to skin that is already irritated, or to cuts/lacerations.
- Do NOT spray a pump or aerosol product directly on the face. First spray it on hands and then carefully spread it on the face (do not allow insect repellent to contact eyes or mouth).
SPECIAL NOTE ON SUNSCREEN:
Outdoor workers may need to use sunscreen in conjunction with insect repellent. Repellents that are applied according to label instructions may be used with sunscreen with no reduction in repellent activity.
However, limited data show a one-third decrease in the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens when DEET-containing insect repellents are used after a sunscreen is applied. Products that combine sunscreen and repellent are not recommended, because sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often and in larger amounts than needed for the repellent component to provide protection from biting insects.
The best option is to use separate products, applying sunscreen first and then applying the repellent. Due to the decrease in SPF when using a DEET-containing insect repellent after applying sunscreen, users may need to reapply the sunscreen more frequently.
The CDC offers in-depth Zika information, control suggestions, and answers to questions at https://www.cdc.gov/zika/