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Friday, July 1, 2016

US Worker Infected by Zika Virus - Is the Workers' Compensation System Ready?

The emerging viral infection, Zika, is now begun to plaque US workers. The Pennsylvania Allegheny County Department of Health (ACDH) reports that a researcher was infected by a needle stick wound. This is the 4th confirmed case of Zika virus reported by the ACHD.

The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy stated:
"CDC-based researchers today published new maps showing county-level locations of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that can spread Zika and other arboviruses. The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, pull information from a variety of sources, covering a span from January 1995 to March 2016. The team reports that A aegypti was reported by 183 counties, 26 states, and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, 1,241 counties, 40 states, and the District of Columbia detected A albopictus during the same period. 
"Senators yesterday agreed on a voice vote to begin House-Senate conferencing on an appropriations bill that includes $1.1 billion in Zika virus funding, The Hill reported yesterday. The task for lawmakers is to reconcile the $1.1 billion Senate bill with a $622 million version covering the current fiscal year from the House.
Even though US agencies have issued alerts and rules to protect workers, Zika continues to spread.

"Ebola demonstrated that even advanced health systems can fail to eliminate the risks of novel infections. As the CDC noted at its national summit on April 1, local Zika virus transmission will likely occur in the continental United States this summer; the question is whether we are ready. The nation’s state of preparedness is compromised by Congress’s inaction on supplemental funding, epidemiologic uncertainties, and the weak capacities and powers of states and localities. If preventable cases of Zika-related infant abnormalities emerge, there will be a high political price for the failure to act decisively."
Is the United States Prepared for a Major Zika Virus Outbreak?JAMA. 2016;315(22):2395-2396. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4919.

With a long hot summer facing the Northern sector of the US, this story has yet to unfold. Historically workers' compensation programs have looked to Federal bailout legislation to indemnify them against an onslaught of infectious disease claims, ie. anthrax and smallpox. While Congress remains in session next week, it is uncertain whether a Federalized program for compensation will be drafted.
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.