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Ebola and workers’ comp

Spoiler alert – no news here, and there won’t be.

Sure, there may well be a lot of hysterical nonsense about the potential problems for health care workers and first responders, flight attendants and TSA screeners.  But there won’t be a crisis, a disaster, or even a problem.

And no, hordes of Ebola-infected suicide germ-bombers aren’t going to invade over our “porous” borders. An idea so preposterous, so far-fetched, so un-doable that only the most naive, nutty, or non-sensical would give it more than a nano-second’s thought. The debunk is here.

Ebola is quite hard to transmit – it requires direct contact with bodily fluids from an individual exhibiting symptoms. This isn’t some airborne germ spreadable by sneezes or aerosol.  The US healthcare system is already quite focused on germ control – ever seen an ER staffer not gowned and gloved for any contact at all?  And if they even think there’s an infection risk, it’s full Hazmat time.

BTW, “direct contact” isn’t touching someone skin-to-skin. It occurs, according to the CDC, when “body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, or feces) from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion.”

What does this mean for you?

Get back to worrying about motor vehicle accidents, flu, and silicosis.  Nothing to see here.


7 thoughts on “Ebola and workers’ comp”

  1. Joe,

    I’d only really be concerned about travel, since airplanes and airports are a great way to spread germs in the fashion the CDC refers to:

    “Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease….Ebola on dried on surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops can survive for several hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.”

    I think most of us have gotten sick, somewhat regularly, after travel from viruses contracted on a plain – I’ve seen more people wearing masks in the airport recently, even prior to the current Ebola scare.

    I would think, though, that even if someone were up for being intentionally infected with the virus, they wouldn’t be feeling well enough by the time they had these symptoms to spread the disease in a very robust fashion.

    I do agree, though – we have many more pertinent and likely scenarios to deal with in WC right now than this.

    Just my two cents!

  2. Joe and Kim,

    Just a couple points (maybe a bit tongue in cheek)

    1) While Ebola may not be the infectious disease that we need to worry about, there will, within a few years, likely be some infectious disease pandemic (deadly or not) we will be confronted with here in the US. Watch the movie “Contagion” sometime (spoiler alert, Gwyneth Paltrow dies within 5 minutes of the start of the film so this is SERIOUS). When we face a widespread infectious disease that kills, the number one concern will likely be how not-to-get-infected-and-die. After the fact, there will be attempts to place liability somewhere, can you imagine the litigation over whether you were infected from your neighbor, or at a health care facility where you work? Will be interesting to see if HCPs and first responders (maybe all public servants) are able to get presumptions enacted for infectious diseases.

    2) From a payer perspective, do you try and attack a pandemic exposure through prevention, or pay the high costs of intensive treatment which may not succeed, or plan for low treatment, quick deaths, in which case the death benefits are likely to be less than intensive drug and isolation treatments.

  3. While Ebola may not be a huge issue as far as staff contracting it and putting a burden on the work comp system, the exposure issue can be a driver. An exposure to TB can involve hundreds of people at a particular hospital involving monitoring, testing, and months of follow up. I can remember times when there were scares such as Anthrax and others–had staff in the occhealth clinic because they pulled a kleenex out of a box and dust popped out–or mailroom personnel who refused to open certain mail because of fear. Employers will have to consider how they will address these issues–and the healthcare community –especially OccHealth clinics will have to have protocols to address these concerns in order to calm the front line staff.

  4. Genuinely curious here: from a WC perspective, wouldn’t there be *some* exposure (yeah, I know).?

    That is, I watched the videos of the guys spraying down the sidewalks outside the apartment, and then you have the deputy who served the quarantine papers now under observation.

    So if the sprayers and/or the deputy test positive, wouldn’t those be WC claims? Again, I don’t know, and I’m not suggesting that this will become pandemic, but on these specific cases I’m thinking there’s a potential WC issue.


  5. I am glad that you posted about this because the public needs to be aware of Ebola virus, especially the term “direct contact”. Some of the people I know thinks that a skin to skin contact would get them contaminated. I am sure that some people think like that and they should be properly educated about it to prevent panic and hysteria.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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