Several cases of monkeypox have now been found in the United States. We do not yet know whether employers will need to worry about monkeypox in the context of their workforces and workplace, but it may be wise to be informed.
Monkeypox is a viral illness that has symptoms including body aches, headaches, fatigue, and, notably, a bumpy skin rash. It is primarily found in Africa, most particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Monkeypox has an incubation period that generally lasts 7-14 days but can be as long as 5-21 days. It has now recently been found in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The first case reported was in Massachusetts in a man who had been to Canada. The second was in New York City by another individual who had a virus similar to monkeypox. And the third was a “presumptive case” involving a Broward County, Florida, man who had traveled internationally, the CDC said.
Unlike what we have been through with COVID-19, wearing a mask will likely not be an issue with monkeypox. It is spread through infected animals, prolonged person-to-person contact, direct contact with lesion materials, or indirect contact through contaminated items, such as contaminated clothing. Avoiding these will help avoid the possibility of infection. Since frequent handwashing continues to be a good hygiene practice, continuing to make this an easy and frequent practice for employees is generally a good health practice, according to health officials.
Monkeypox has also recently been found in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. According to public health officials, the risk of exposure remains low although there are expected to be more cases in the United States. Health officials believe the smallpox vaccination will offer some amount of protection from monkeypox.
Employers that have employees who are soon to travel internationally, either for personal or business reasons, may want to consider educating them on the symptoms, how the virus is transmitted, and the fact that they may wish to consult with their own healthcare practitioners about the smallpox vaccination. There is no indication that travel should be avoided or prohibited.
For more details on monkeypox that employers may want to share with employees, please see the CDC’s resources.