The news story that a plane was briefly detained and quarantined in Chicago when a passenger was suspected of having monkeypox should make HR professionals think about their policies for employees who travel abroad.
Monkeypox is a contagious disease caused by a virus that spreads through contact with infected animals or respiratory droplets from another infected human. Symptoms develop within 10 days of exposure and include a rash with raised bumps filled with fluid similar to chicken pox, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. The illness can last from 2 to 4 weeks.
Luckily the passenger, who was traveling back from Uganda, had been in contact with human with pox-like symptoms, and exhibited a rash and malaise, was only suffering from insect bites, possibly from bedbugs. Of course, your company recognizes that employees can be exposed to communicable diseases while traveling and pays for vaccinations required for the destination. However, this story is a reminder that it is a good time to review your policies on travel, vaccinations, and communicable disease.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issues two types of notices to travelers regarding communicable diseases: advisories and alerts. A travel advisory recommends that nonessential travel be deferred; a travel alert does not advise against travel, but informs travelers of a health concern and provides advice about specific precautions.
Before traveling outside the United States, employees should review their immunization history and determine from the CDC website, as well as from their own healthcare provider, what vaccinations are needed for the countries to which they are traveling. Employees are to obtain appropriate vaccinations for their destinations.
If the CDC issues a travel advisory for an area to which an employee is scheduled to travel, the employee, his or her supervisor, and Human Resources should discuss whether to postpone or cancel the trip and use an alternative method of communication, such as a teleconference or live video feed, to accomplish the purpose of the trip, especially if the employee has contraindications, such as pregnancy, to certain vaccinations.
While traveling, employees should check the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel for advisories or alerts regarding their itineraries.
It is a good idea for companies with employees who travel abroad to designate a member of the Human Resources Department to track information and provide training regarding communicable disease. When there is a local outbreak, the designee can act as a resource for traveling or expatriate employees.