Monkeypox: Do You Still Need to Pay Attention?
(and a flyer for your employees)
Monkeypox was a big topic over the summer. Is it something to continue to worry about? Possibly, but the risk of monkeypox to the general public is still very low. The most important thing an employer can do is educate themselves about monkeypox so they do not overreact to something that has a very small chance of affecting their employees and their work environment.
The most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists about 22,000 cases in the United States with 4,300 being reported in California since May 17, 2022.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus that is part of the same family as the virus that causes smallpox. It was first discovered in 1958 in a colony of monkeys, which is where the name comes from, and the first human case was recorded in 1970. Monkeypox generally results in much milder symptoms than smallpox and it is rarely fatal.
What are the symptoms of Monkeypox and how is it spread?
The most common symptom according to the CDC is a rash that looks like pimples or blisters and that may be painful or itchy. The rash will progress through stages and will eventually become scabbed over and fall off. Other symptoms can include fever, chills, muscle aches and a sore throat.
Monkeypox is spread when someone has direct physical contact with the rash or open sores of an infected person. Monkeypox is usually mild with symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks however, some people may be at risk for more severe disease such as those with a weakened immune system, those with a history of eczema and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What should I do if an employee has been exposed to Monkeypox?
If your employee tells you they have been exposed but do not have any symptoms, the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency (SD-HHSA) advises it is OK for them to continue their daily activities including working, as long as they remain symptom-free. They should speak to their healthcare provider to help them decide if they should be tested for the virus at this stage. They should also monitor themselves for the signs and symptoms of the virus for 21 days.
You can provide them with a copy of this flyer from the SD-HHSA which provides more helpful information on what they should know and expect. One important point to note in this flyer is that people who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.
After exposure to monkeypox, the employee can discuss getting the monkeypox vaccine with their healthcare provider, however, if they develop symptoms or test positive for the disease, they are no longer a candidate for the vaccine as it is not a treatment for the virus.
If they do develop symptoms, they should immediately contact their healthcare provider to get tested. If they test positive or their healthcare provider otherwise determines they have the virus, they will be asked to self-isolate at home until cleared by their healthcare provider. This will be until their symptoms have improved or gone away completely which will normally take between 2 to 4 weeks.
If an employee is not able to work from home during this time, they may be eligible for protected leave under federal or state leave laws and for pay under state disability programs and/or the company’s sick leave policy.
As with all employee medical information, the specific employee’s information should not be shared with other employees and should be maintained in a confidential file separate from the employee’s general employee file.
Final Thoughts – Information is Power!
As an employer who cares about their employees, it is important to show this care and concern when an employee has been exposed to monkeypox or is worried about contracting the virus.
As the information from the CDC and SD-HHSA shows, monkeypox is extremely rare and will not be something that most employees will come in contact with. If they have questions, the flyer mentioned above could be very helpful in giving them more information about the virus and ways they can avoid contracting it. This may help alleviate any fears the employee has about monkeypox.
SDHR Consulting’s team of HR Consultants is knowledgeable about workplace illness and benefits questions. If you have any questions regarding Monkeypox or other HR topics please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-220-9286.
About the Author
Traci Hagan, MHRM
Traci is an HR Consultant who has been with SDHRC for over 5 years but has over 35 years of experience in employee relations, conflict resolution benefits administration, training and development, workers’ comp, and staffing. Traci’s experiences encompass multi-organizational and cross-cultural issues which allow her to expertly charter the waters of complex problems and where she thrives by discovering and providing solutions for smoother sailing.