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Monkeypox Outbreak Declared A Public Health Emergency – Health & Safety



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On August 4, 2022, the Biden administration declared the
monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. This comes at a time
where the number of cases in the United States are rapidly rising
and with cases found in almost every state. This declaration
primarily affects testing and vaccination. The government’s
focus on vaccination has primarily been on health care workers
treating monkeypox patients and men who have sex with men. The
declaration follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration last month of monkeypox as a
public health emergency of international concern.

The information affecting the workplace is still somewhat
limited. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
recommends that people with monkeypox remain
isolated at home or in another location for the duration of the
illness, which typically can last two to four weeks.

It is still not known if monkeypox can be spread through
respiratory secretions. Accordingly, a well-fitting mask and
frequent handwashing are likely important preventive measures.

Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, often
skin-to-skin contact, including:

  • via direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids
    from a person with monkeypox;

  • by touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels),
    and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox;
    and

  • possibly through contact with respiratory secretions.

Employers may wish to educate their employees about monkeypox,
including that employees with concerns should consult their
physicians or health department, and may wish to inquire about
testing and vaccination. Employers may also wish to consider how
they will handle absences of up to one month, if remote work is not
a possibility and/or when remote work is a possibility. Knowledge
is often a way to avoid panic in the workplace and both the CDC and
WHO have excellent fact sheets on their websites. State health
agencies are likely to have them as well.

It may also be worthwhile to consider how to protect employees
who are required to handle linens used by other people, people who
are frequently in close contact with others for extended periods,
or who come into close physical contact with others. For example,
in its monkeypox congregate settings guidelines, the
CDC recommends that personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn
when cleaning the area where an individual with monkeypox has spent
time.

The CDC also stated in its monkeypox congregate settings
guidelines that “[e]mployers must comply with [the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] standards on
Bloodborne Pathogens…, PPE…, Respiratory Protection…, and
other requirements, including those established by state plans,
whenever these requirements apply.”

Public health officials are emphasizing the fact that anyone can
get monkeypox. The current outbreak is most prevalent among men
having sex with other men, but can spread to anyone. Employers may
want to stay attuned to any harassment or discrimination in the
workplace resulting from misinformation about the disease.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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