What the Zika virus means for international assignments

The Zika virus is the latest threat to public health making the rounds of news sites, blogs and social media. The mosquito-borne illness has pregnant women worried about travel and, in the corporate world, has led to a lot of HR headaches. Although the virus is relatively harmless to adults – according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms last only a week or so – it can lead to pregnancy complications. Because of this close connection to reproductive health, what’s the best way for companies to deal with assignments to potentially infected areas?brazil 2

What is Zika?
The virus has been known since the late 1940s and since then has been mostly contained to central Africa and Southeast Asia. Last year, it was discovered in Brazil and the Caribbean and subsequently a handful of travel-related cases occurred in the U.S. As of Feb 24, more than 100 cases had been reported in the U.S. Pregnant women are being cautioned to avoid infested areas, as the virus may cause microcephaly – smaller than average head and brain size, which can cause intellectual disabilities and developmental delays – in infants.

2015 saw several reported Zika cases in Brazil.
2015 saw several reported Zika cases in Brazil.
HR response
The New York Times reported that many companies are keeping their Zika polices close to the chest. It’s little wonder they’re doing so, as any statements about the illness are automatically linked to sensitive reproductive health issues.

University of Alabama professor of medicine and epidemiology David O. Freedman told the source, “There are all sorts of legal implications and legal restrictions. Do you even hint at advising your female employees not to get pregnant for the next two years, while posted in Brazil?”

This is a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, and the U.S. Department of Defense is doing just that. According to Military Times, the DOD is offering to relocate pregnant civilian employees and family members of active-duty personnel. Military leaders are also concerned about keeping troops healthy when deployed in tropical locations with high mosquito populations.

This article was published here