UK employers operating in Zika-affected areas of South America should communicate advice to their employees regarding their travel plans, particularly for those that are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. While there has been a lot of publicity and advice for independent travellers, it is important that that employers play their part in ensuring the advice is passed on to their employees.
The virus, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and most recently associated with the spike in cases of microcephaly - the condition where babies are born with unusually small heads – can also lead to a fever and rash in adults and children, and has no known cure.
Companies should check their policies and follow guidelines from reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), government and their insurers. Such sources give valuable guidance on who should travel, as well as prevention such as covering up, using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents, and putting on sunscreen before any insect repellent.
Guidance is available, and it is of utmost importance that employers communicate it to their employees that are planning travel to Zika-affected areas. The advice is for those that are pregnant to reconsider travel plans. Further, those with severe chronic illness or immune system disorders are advised to seek advice from a health professional before travel to areas where Zika outbreaks are reported.
If an employee has symptoms, eligible costs are covered up to diagnosis through an international PMI scheme, but there is no vaccine and there is currently no specific treatment for Zika virus infection.
While the official guidance may be quite clear, employers need to be mindful that there may be some less straightforward situations that might arise. If an employee is planning on starting a family they may be reticent to travel to such areas but not want to disclose the reason why with their employer; so it’s important for employers to take any requests seriously from those who wish to delay travelling.
Locations that are currently affected are taking steps to fumigate and therefore limit and prevent exposure.
By Adam Harding, Business Development Manager, Jelf International