The past few years have been extremely hard on everyone, but some more than others. So, when the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on July 23, some people understandably got a little upset.
What is monkeypox?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines monkeypox as “a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal.”
It’s spread from person to person through direct contact with an infectious rash, scabs or body fluids. However, it can be spread by respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact.
A person is contagious and can spread the disease from the time the first symptom appears until the rash has healed with a fresh layer of skin.
Currently, the U.S. is reporting the most cases – as of Aug. 4, 2022, 7,102 cases have been reported. But the only region that WHO considers high risk right now is the European region of WHO. Cases there are spreading the fastest. As far as the U.S. and any other region go, WHO considers them a moderate risk. Despite that, New York, California and Illinois have declared similar states of emergency. (Here is a map of the U.S. from the CDC that has a state-by-state case count.)
The U.S. declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Aug. 4 to free up funding and resource to battle the disease.
What can employers, HR do?
It’s understandable that many people after watching the news started to have flashbacks of COVID-19. To help keep any kind of hysteria maintained, HR and other supervisors should:
- acknowledging people’s fears as legitimate
- monitor the outbreak – consider designing one or two people to keep up with all the news, and
- educate employees (The CDC has a page dedicated to monkeypox that includes 2022 U.S. outbreak stats, signs and symptoms, prevention, vaccines, how it spreads, treatment and communication resources.).
While monkeypox isn’t deemed a “sexually transmitted disease”, it’s transmitted via close, sustained physical contact, which can include sexual contact. The CDC estimates about 1.7 million men who have sex with men face the biggest threat from monkeypox right now. However, it needs to be emphasized that anyone can get the virus. So, make sure that all communications emphasize that. You want your LGBTQ+ community to feel supported, but not singled out.
If someone is experiencing monkeypox symptoms, urge them to go home if they’re at work and see a medical professional, even if they don’t think they’ve had contact with someone with a positive diagnosis.
On the other hand, if they have had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox, have them work remotely. Monkeypox has an incubation period of three to 17 days even though the person may have no symptoms and feel fine. Typically, monkeypox lasts two to four weeks.