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July 26, 2022

Monkeypox: Managing the Risks for Your Business

Stephen Massey

Monkeypox continues to spread in the United States: 

  • May 26th: Nine cases in seven states.
  • July 26th: 3,591 cases in 46 states.

With any emerging threat, employers need to understand the health risks and respond accordingly. Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox.

The risk outlook:

  • Last weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health emergency and called for a coordinated international response to prevent the virus from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic.

  • While anyone can catch monkeypox if they have close contact with someone who has the virus, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, an overwhelming majority of those affected in the U.S. and globally are gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men. 

  • The current risk to the general U.S. population remains low, but there is a growing concern among health officials that the current outbreak could spread beyond specific communities.

  • Monkeypox doesn’t spread easily. And, unlike COVID-19, people without symptoms can’t spread it.

  • Employers should take care not to damage your workplace culture by stigmatizing employees who are at higher risk or affected by monkeypox.

Why you should take monkeypox seriously:

  • Monkeypox is rarely fatal, but it can produce serious illness, especially in children under age 8, people who have weakened immune systems or are pregnant, and people with history of eczema. You have a responsibility to protect vulnerable employees.

  • The virus is disruptive to people’s work and lives. A person who contracts monkeypox should isolate until their rash has fully resolved, which could create an extended absence from the workplace.

  • For adults infected by monkeypox, the virus creates a rash with sores that can be painful or itchy for 2 to 4 weeks.

Can monkeypox be spread at the workplace?

  • Most workplace interactions don’t align with how monkeypox is commonly spread.

  • The monkeypox virus is spread through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs or bodily fluids. People with monkeypox in the current outbreak generally report having close, sustained physical contact with other people who have monkeypox. 

  • Monkeypox can also be spread through prolonged, close face-to-face contact — think kissing, cuddling or other intimate behavior.

  • Linens, towels or clothing that touched the infectious rash or bodily fluids can also transmit the virus. Employees in housekeeping, commercial laundry or similar positions should practice basic precautions, including wearing gloves and washing their hands with soap after contact with potentially infected items. 

How does monkeypox NOT spread?

  • Casual, brief conversations.
  • Passing by someone in a corridor or public space.
  • Remember: it does not spread easily and can’t be spread by people without symptoms.

Should employers disinfect surfaces in the workplace?

  • If you believe your workplace may be contaminated by the monkeypox virus, follow these disinfection instructions.

What should you tell employees about monkeypox?

  • Inform employees about the symptoms. Monkeypox presents a rash, which can look like pimples or blisters, and which can appear before or after flu-like symptoms, including a fever.

  • Remind employees—regardless of the cause of their illness—if they have a fever, they should stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever has gone (without the use of fever-reducing medication, like Tylenol / acetaminophen).

  • And make sure employees know what to do if they think they have monkeypox or if they’ve had close contact with someone who has monkeypox.

What should someone do if they have monkeypox or if they’ve had close contact with someone who has monkeypox?

  • See a healthcare provider if you notice a new or unexplained rash or other monkeypox symptoms.

  • Remind the healthcare provider that monkeypox is circulating.

  • Avoid close contact (including intimate physical contact) with others until a healthcare provider examines you.

  • Avoid close contact with pets or other animals until a healthcare provider examines you.

  • If you’re waiting for test results, follow the same precautions.

  • If your test result is positive, stay isolated until your rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of intact skin has formed.

What about vaccines?

  • The CDC does not recommend widespread vaccination at this time.  

  • Currently, people who have had close contact with people known to have monkeypox, and people who may have had high-risk exposures in venues or areas where monkeypox is actively spreading, are prioritized for the vaccine.

  • An employee who thinks they may be eligible for vaccination should contact their healthcare provider or local public health department.

  • In most areas of the country, there aren’t enough monkeypox vaccines to meet current demand. The Biden administration has announced a plan to expand vaccination for individuals at risk and make testing more convenient for healthcare providers and patients across the country.

Where can employees get reliable information about monkeypox?

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has answered  Frequently Asked Questions about monkeypox, including how to prevent infection and what to do if you think you have contracted the virus.