Ebola is a rare, but often fatal, disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Symptoms of Ebola may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus and include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, and stomach pain. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals can only get Ebola from touching:
- Blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola;
- Contaminated objects (e.g., needles); or
- Infected fruit bats or primates (e.g., apes and monkeys).
Individuals cannot get Ebola through the air, through water, or through food grown or legally purchased in the United States.
Although Ebola does not pose a threat to most U.S. workers, exposure may be more likely in certain sectors, including the health care, airline and other travel service, and laboratory industries. Employers in these industries should be familiar with certain standards under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (or state-specific standards) that may be applicable in the event of possible worker exposure to the Ebola virus. Interim guidance is available for protecting workers whose work activities are conducted in an environment that is known or reasonably suspected to be contaminated with Ebola.
Employers in all industries can help prevent the spread of illness by encouraging simple hygiene practices. To help protect against Ebola, the CDC advises all individuals to follow some simple do’s and don’ts:
- DO wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
- DON’T touch the blood or body fluids of those who are sick; and
- DON’T handle items that may have come in contact with a sick person’s blood or fluids (e.g., clothes, bedding, or medical equipment).
For the latest on the Ebola outbreak and additional resources for protecting workers, please visit the CDC website. Our section on Safety & Wellness within the HR Library on the Client Resource Center includes more information on employer responsibilities related to employee safety and health.