OSHA Urges Employers to Protect Workers from Cytomegalovirus Exposure

Published May 30, 2019

A new web page published by OSHA provides information on protecting workers from Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a common virus that is often spread through saliva and other body fluids of young children. For this reason, childcare and healthcare workers are at increased risk for exposure to CMV. According to OSHA, CMV is present in many other body fluids such as urine, tears, mucus, breastmilk, and blood, and can spread through direct, prolonged contact with these fluids. The virus typically causes few or very minor symptoms in adults, but pregnant women can pass the infection to their unborn babies. CMV can cause serious birth defects such as mental, behavioral, and physical developmental issues in some babies born with the infection.

“CMV is especially hazardous for workers who are or may become pregnant, or who could spread the virus to a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, due to the intellectual and motor disabilities that CMV can cause in infants born to mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy,” OSHA states.

Childcare workers can be exposed to CMV during activities such as changing a child's diaper, wiping a child's nose or mouth, handling toys that may have been in children's mouths, feeding a child, and providing first aid. Healthcare workers are at increased risk for exposure to CMV because they have daily encounters with sick patients.

OSHA’s new page explains how to minimize health risks associated with workers’ exposure to CMV. According to the agency, employers should develop an infection control plan that addresses sources of CMV exposure and infection prevention measures. When the agency’s bloodborne pathogens standard applies, employers must implement universal precautions and other infection prevention measures, including as a written exposure control plan, engineering and work practice controls, personal protective equipment, and training. OSHA urges employers to provide disposable gloves and encourage workers to use them for any tasks involving contact with body fluids. Workers should be required to discard gloves immediately after use and to wash their hands, preferably with soap and water. The agency also stresses that workplace surfaces that may be contaminated with body fluids should be cleaned regularly with disinfectant.

More information related to CMV, including general guidance for childcare and healthcare workers and information for workers who are pregnant or may become pregnant, is available on OSHA’s website. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a page dedicated to CMV and congenital CMV infection.