by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
Contracting the Zika virus during the course of employment has become a potential problem for employees who travel overseas. The problem has started to hit home, however with the recent outbreaks in the United States and the travel of US Olympians to Rio for the Summer Olympics.
According to the CDC website, as of July 27, 2016 the US has a reported 1,658 cases of Zika. 1,657 of those cases are associated with travel. The other case resulted from laboratory exposure. The number of cases increases dramatically when the US territories are included—rising to a total of 4,750. The major area for concern is currently South America.
Zika is a virus spread by mosquito bites. There is currently no vaccine or medicine for the virus. The disease is spread from person to person via sexual contact, blood transfusion, from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and even potentially through laboratory exposure. While there are traditionally minimal symptoms, the virus has been linked to severe birth defects. Pregnant women should be especially cautious of contracting the disease. Most symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, and headaches. These symptoms can last for several days up to a week. Since there is no vaccine available, the only way to prevent against the virus is to protect against mosquitos.
If you have contracted Zika during the course of your employment, workers’ compensation benefits should be a relevant consideration. Benefits would stretch to cover treatment of the virus, temporary loss of wages, known as temporary total disability benefits, and potentially death benefits.
There are two conditions that must be met before a disease is considered occupational and covered under workers’ compensation—it must arise out of the course of employment and the disease must arise from or be caused by conditions representative of the employment. A simple test is to ask whether the employer benefitted by the employee’s actions when the disease was contracted? The first prong of the test is relatively simple to determine; however the second prong proves trickier. A coal miner contracting black lung disease is one example of a disease arising from conditions representative of the employment. For healthcare workers and first responders and those that travel for employment, meeting the two prongs is easier. Employees in these fields should be especially cautious of contracting the virus.
Some argue that contracting a disease such as Zika is no more of an everyday hazard than contracting the flu, however the flu doesn’t result in severe and debilitating birth defects. Zika should be treated as an occupational threat.
The Summer 2016 Olympics in Rio has presented huge issues involving Zika. Brazil is such an area of concern that many athletes withdrew from the competition in fear of contracting the disease. For those that braved the trip in order to compete, they are at risk of contracting the disease.
Getting flashbacks to swine flu, avian flu, and ebola? You’re not alone. Same effects, different diseases. Alabamians have been diagnosed with the Zika virus. Protect yourself and be smart. We look forward to enjoying the Olympics from the comfort and protection of our homes.
Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine.