A new public health challenge awaits governments and businesses weary from the Covid-19 pandemic. As monkeypox spreads worldwide, it is rapidly affecting the United States and other parts of the world. Despite the lower risk of infection associated with this infectious disease than Covid-19, employers should prepare to deal with potential infections within their workplaces and communities.

Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox, causing systemic symptoms including fever, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, and blisters and pustules that progress over several days. The Jynneos vaccine reduces the risk of infections and symptoms if given within two weeks of exposure to smallpox. While the vaccine is in short supply in the United States, more of the Jynneos vaccine is in production to anticipate patient needs. In addition, more public laboratories and health departments are opening that provide monkeypox testing to the public.

Employers should consider the following factors:

Most work settings pose a low risk of transmission of monkeypox.

The most common way to contract monkeypox is through direct contact with someone with a skin sore. Historically, we’re seeing that males who have sex with other males are most likely to contract monkeypox. Still, non-sexual skin contact or exposure to coughing or sneezing from someone with monkeypox can also spread it. The virus can also transmit to an unborn child in utero. It can also transfer through clothing or linen that has come into contact with lesions on the skin. 

Surfaces of objects can carry the monkeypox virus, but this is not the primary mode of transmission. From the time they have their first symptoms until their last lesions crust over, monkeypox is contagious for two to four weeks.

Employers can take concrete steps to reduce the risk of monkeypox transmission at work. By encouraging contact-free greetings and providing hand sanitizer, they can continue to promote hand washing. Gloves should be worn routinely by individuals whose work involves touching skin or materials that have been in contact with skin, such as dirty towels or bedsheets. Staff in healthcare industries, hotels, hair salons, nail salons, and daycare centers fall into this category. Employers can reduce the risk of respiratory transmission using high-quality, well-fitting masks.

There is a higher risk of transmission and severe illness among pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, so any protocols should address how to protect them.

A policy should be in place to deal with exposure to monkeypox in the workplace.

To keep employees safe, managers should have access to protocols that minimize disruptions to the workplace. In addition, a monkeypox-response policy can address employee safety, business continuity, and privacy.

Employers should monitor the employee on a case-by-case basis before returning to work. People exposed to monkeypox, for example, can return to work as soon as 21 days after exposure. However, suppose employees display fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, and skin lesions. In that case, they should seek medical attention before returning to work. 

Until cleared by public health authorities, people diagnosed with monkeypox should seek medical care and isolate themselves at home. Patients can work from home when work does not require physical presence at the worksite. Still, some suffer from severe pain or other symptoms that prevent them from working.

Employers should disinfect all recently used areas by employees exposed to monkeypox, including door handles, toilet flush handles, light switches, and faucets. In addition, porous surfaces may require steam cleaning; workers must wear protective clothing and masks and properly dispose of hazardous waste.

Pay attention to state and local health departments reccomendations on prevention and treatment efforts.

The treating provider and lab must report a monkeypox case to the state public health department. Individuals exposed to the disease will be identified and notified to ensure they can be vaccinated, monitored for symptoms, and treated if necessary. Employers don’t need to report workplace exposures, but local and state public health departments can provide helpful information for companies.

The federal government is partnering with state health departments to spread the Jynneos vaccine. Currently, the vaccine is only available to laboratory workers and those exposed recently to monkeypox or at an extremely high risk of infection. It is not possible or practical to mandate employee vaccinations at this time. While employer-sponsored insurance plans may charge administration fees, the federal government will provide this vaccination and antivirals like tecovirimat (also known as TPOXX) free of charge.

It is possible to lose income and disrupt the workforce due to monkeypox.

Taking paid time off, including sick leave, encourages people with illnesses to stay home. Still, monkeypox is so contagious that it will exceed the paid time off many employees are allowed to take. By the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees may have the right to take unpaid, job-protected leave. After a waiting period, some employees with monkeypox may qualify for income replacement through short-term disability insurance or state disability programs.

If employees are isolated, employers can offer supplemental sick leave, requiring them to report their diagnoses, posing privacy concerns. The same is true of programs that allow employees to transfer paid time off to ill colleagues for a long time. Employers may also want to consider how employees can safely isolate themselves for up to four weeks if diagnosed while traveling.

There may also be an impact on adult caregivers of children. For example, the United States has a few cases of monkeypox among toddlers. If the disease spreads to daycare settings, more caregivers could miss work. Employers can address these issues through remote and flexible work options.

Avoid stigmatizing employees by communicating promptly, accurately, and sensitively.

By communicating accurately about monkeypox, employers can demonstrate their concern for employee well-being. Therefore, employers should communicate promptly while maintaining complete confidentiality for infected employees whenever there is workplace exposure. 

It is vital to have fact-based, non-judgmental communication that is inclusive and does not stigmatize people who are unwilling to report monkeypox. It will also prevent those who are not gay or bisexual men from feeling a false sense of security. Finally, it is crucial to make concise and practical recommendations.

There will be rapid advances in our understanding of monkeypox.

Although monkeypox has been transmitted from person to person outside of endemic areas for just a few months, there is still much to learn. In the coming months, we will likely better understand how diseases spread and how to treat them. In addition, the availability of vaccines will improve, as well as the availability of antiviral agents. Additionally, the virus may develop mutations that alter its severity or transmissibility.

As more robust data becomes available, employers should expect recommendations and guidance to change. In addition to monitoring virus updates from reputable sources like the CDC and WHO, they should pay attention to what is happening with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WeShield ensures that the information we provide is up-to-date and accurate. In addition, our blog will keep you updated on monkeypox, COVID-19, supply chain news, and high-quality PPE.