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NIOSH review shows infectious diseases concentrated in specific industries

Highest risk of exposure found in healthcare, laboratories, animal workers, public service workers

Posted March 5, 2019

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently published a study conducting a review of infectious disease investigations in U.S. workplaces to better understand the range of cases, the risk factors for workers, and ways to prevent infectious disease transmission on the job.

NIOSH says that experiences with anthrax, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), influenza A (H1N1), the Ebola virus, and several other infectious diseases in the workplace have highlighted the importance of focusing on workplaces not only to identify at-risk populations but also to understand how diseases spread and how they can be prevented. To better understand these factors, Agency researchers reviewed published scientific literature describing 66 U.S. workplaces from 2006-2015.

Researchers found that reported cases of infection appear to be concentrated in specific industries and occupations, especially the healthcare industry and among laboratory workers, animal workers, and public service workers. These include workers who come in contact with ill persons or with livestock, poultry, or other animals as part of their job. In addition to becoming infected themselves, some workers may also serve as vectors that spread the disease to others; for example, workers in food preparation and serving-related occupations have been identified as sources of transmission in foodborne outbreaks.

NIOSH stated that strengthening biosafety programs in those industries and involving epidemiologists, physicians, industrial hygienists, and engineers could help prevent the spread of occupationally acquired infectious diseases to coworkers and the general public. Prevention measures may include improved ventilation systems in workplaces, vaccination of workers, and personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate to the pathogen.

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