October 27, 2022 / Kay Bechtold

The Monthly Weekly: Viruses and the Workplace

Editor’s note:The Monthly Weekly is an occasional feature that reviews the previous month’s news coverage from The Synergist Weekly newsletter.

Reports, recommendations, and other resources published by U.S. federal agencies reflect recent efforts related to viruses and the workplace. While exposure to SARS-CoV-2 remains a concern for workers in all types of settings, viruses like monkeypox and avian influenza may present exposure risks among narrower groups such as healthcare workers, laboratory employees, and animal handlers.

According to CDC, there is currently a low risk of monkeypox spreading in most workplaces. The latest agency data indicate that as of Oct. 26 there have been approximately 28,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States and six deaths. Likewise, CDC maintains that the risk of avian influenza to public health is low, and OSHA states there is currently no evidence of sustained spread of avian influenza viruses among people. So far this year, one case of avian influenza A(H5N1), a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, has been reported in the U.S. in a person who was directly involved in the culling of poultry with presumptive H5N1 bird flu.

New information published by OSHA, CDC, and EPA may be of interest to industrial hygienists and occupational and environmental health and safety professionals who are charged with protecting employees who might be at increased risk of exposure to viruses on the job. Here, SynergistNOW provides an overview of agency updates on the topic of viruses and infectious diseases.

Personal protective equipment and monkeypox. A study of Colorado healthcare workers found low adherence to CDC recommendations for PPE when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed monkeypox, according to a publication in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Despite the low adherence to CDC’s recommendations, none of the exposed healthcare workers contracted monkeypox during the 21 days researchers monitored them.

Occupationally acquired monkeypox. The first reported case of occupationally acquired Monkeypox virus in the U.S resulted from a needlestick, according to a report published last week by CDC. An emergency department nurse in Florida was exposed to the virus in July while obtaining swabs from a patient with suspected monkeypox.

Monkeypox guidance. A new CDC toolkit provides information for both workers and employers on preventing monkeypox at work. Additional resources in the toolkit include site-specific guidance for workers in healthcare facilities, those who perform autopsies and handle human remains, laboratory personnel, veterinarians, and schools.

Recommendations for avian influenza. A fact sheet published recently by OSHA provides interim recommendations for protecting employees who may be exposed to avian influenza. Workers at increased risk of exposure to avian influenza, or bird flu, include poultry workers, other animal handlers, laboratory employees who handle influenza viruses, and healthcare workers who treat patients with known or suspected avian influenza.

Air sanitizer for influenza and coronavirus. The first antimicrobial product for use in air that can kill both bacteria and viruses has been registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The product was tested against a surrogate virus “and is expected to be effective against similar airborne viruses such as SARS-CoV-2,” according to EPA.

Improving indoor air quality to reduce disease transmission. EPA is requesting information from IHs and other professionals that would help the federal government promote adoption of practices to improve IAQ and mitigate disease transmission in existing buildings, especially schools and commercial buildings. The agency says it will use information submitted to support development of guidance, training, incentives, and other efforts related to IAQ.

The latest industry news from The Synergist is available on AIHA’s website and in The Synergist Weekly e-newsletter, which is delivered to members every Thursday. Please share feedback about our news coverage in the comments here or send an email to The Synergist.

Kay Bechtold

Kay Bechtold is managing editor of The Synergist.


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