Ebola State of Emergency
The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, only the fifth time the designation has been used. Currently there are 2612 reported cases and 1756 reported deaths, making the year-old epidemic the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Until now the cases have primarily been in remote areas of the country, but this past week a patient was diagnosed in the major city of Goma. The arrival of the virus in the provincial capital could potentially mean a spread to other countries and/or regions as the city serves as a transportation hub to neighboring regions.
While few global companies’ workforces have been affected thus far, if cases spread outside DRC or in more urban areas, similar to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, employers may begin receiving questions from employees about transmission, travel and risk factors. Misinformation about how the disease is spread keeps people from getting treatment and has been a considerable challenge in containing the virus. It’s important that consistent, fact-based and simple information be communicated in order not to overwhelm employees and the community. Early treatment and prevention are essential, particularly as a new treatment and vaccine are being trialed during the DRC outbreak. Employers can help keep their employees safe and healthy by clearly communicating how Ebola virus can and cannot be transmitted, as well as outlining what people should do if they start showing any symptoms.
What Employers Can Do
Employers can and should play an important role in an outbreak by:
- Repeatedly communicating information to employees about risk factors and preventive measures to reduce illness and deaths while also combatting fear;
- Assessing business risks (e.g., impact of worker absenteeism, supply chain delays, etc.);
- Developing business continuity plans;
- Working with legal counsel around issues of quarantines, screening returning travelers, leaves of absence, refusal to work and return to work;
- Collaborating with local and international public health organizations regarding impacted workforce; and
- Establishing policies to guide the company through an outbreak (e.g., determine critical workers, plan for emergency operations, establish lines of communication, telecommuting/evacuation/leave policies).
Additional Information about Ebola Virus Disease
- Transmission occurs when people come in direct contact with the bodily fluids (urine, stool, saliva, blood, semen) of infected individuals and animals (e.g. when caring for sick family members or through contaminated surfaces).
- During an outbreak, health workers, family members of those who are sick and mourners who have direct contact with bodies are at highest risk. Since the cultural norm is for family members to prepare the body for burial, that risk factor may be a difficult one to change.
- Symptoms typically appear 2-21 days after transmission. Early signs include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. In later stages, people commonly have vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
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