Summer of 2012 on Track for Most West Nile Cases in 13 years
The summer of 2012 is on track to have the most cases of the West Nile Virus since the infection arrived in the United States in 1999. At the end of July there were only 29 cases of West Nile Virus in the U.S., per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of August 28th, the CDC is reporting 1,590 cases including 66 deaths. West Nile Virus has been documented in people (it also occurs in animals) in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Texas is bearing the brunt of the outbreak with 894 cases and 34 deaths. [WCx]
Employers Need to Understand Infection and What Can be Done
Employers need to understand the infection and what can be done to protect their employees. The workers’ compensation exposure to West Nile Virus can be catastrophic. A Texas jury awarded a Union Pacific employee nearly one million dollars because he claimed he was infected with the West Nile Virus while working.
The illness is spread by the bite of mosquitos. Employers with employees who work outdoors are exposed to workers’ compensation claims arising out of mosquito bites. This includes landscapers, exterior painters, construction workers, delivery personnel, loggers, forestry workers, plant nurseries, utility linemen and utility repair personnel, amusement park employees and farm workers.
Only 2 – 3% of People Infected Report Cases
It should be noted that the reported cases is estimated to be only 2 percent to 3 percent of the people infected with the West Nile Virus. It is estimated by the CDC that 80% of the people infected by the mosquito bites develop no symptoms. In most of the 20% who develop symptoms, the symptoms are usually mild, primarily aches and fever. Only about one in 150 people infected with the West Nile Virus develop the severe symptoms that require extensive medical care.
West Nile Fever or Severe West Nile Disease
In the 20% of people who develop symptoms, there are two classifications, West Nile fever or severe West Nile disease. The West Nile fever symptoms include fever, headaches, body aches, tiredness, occasionally a skin rash on the trunk of the body, and swollen lymph glands. The West Nile fever will last a few days up to several weeks.
1 in 150 People Develop Severe West Nile Disease
In the 1 in 150 people who develop severe West Nile disease (also referred to as neuroinvasive disease which includes West Nile encephalitis or meningitis or West Nile poliomyelitis) the symptoms include headache, high fever, stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. While the severe West Nile disease can occur in anyone, employees over the age of 50 and employees with a compromised immunity system are at the highest risk of becoming severely ill.
The issue that employers face with West Nile virus workers’ compensation claims is making a determination as to whether or not the West Nile Virus was contracted during work hours or during the employee’s non-work hours. Complicating the determination of compensability is the fact that the incubation period from the mosquito bite to the onset of the West Nile fever or the West Nile disease can be as short as 2 days or as long as 15 days.
Steps Employers Can Take to Reduce Risk
Employers cannot eliminate all risk/exposure to West Nile Virus, but there are steps employers can take to reduce the risk of West Nile Virus in their employees working outside.
- Requiring employees to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and socks whenever possible
- Requiring the work clothing to be loose fitting to help prevent mosquitos from reaching the skin
- Providing and requiring employees to apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin area
- Providing and requiring employees to treat clothing with permethrin repellents (but it should not be applied to skin).
- Requiring employees to avoid colognes, perfumes, fragrant hair spray, lotions and scented soaps
- Providing protective equipment where possible
In addition to providing your employees with the above list of ways to protect themselves from mosquito bites and the exposure to West Nile Virus, the employer should educate their employees on how to recognize the symptoms of West Nile fever and West Nile disease.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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