Lack of Research Puts Workers in Danger of Infectious Disease Outbreaks

NIOSH calls for more studies on outbreaks affecting various industries

March 4, 2019

U.S. workers are at risk of infectious disease outbreaks in the workplace due to a lack of research on how to prevent and treat these outbreaks, according to a review by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) scientists published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

NIOSH researchers found only 74 studies or reports on investigations of workplace outbreaks between 2006 and 2015. These studies were concentrated on workers in specific industries, especially in healthcare and laboratories. However, researchers found no studies on outbreaks affecting people who work in schools, food service, and outdoor occupations, among other industries

Due to their close contact with people who may be ill, workers in school are at risk of viral respiratory infections, including influenza and measles. Food service employees can be infected with salmonella and norovirus then transmit the disease to the general public. Landscaping and other outdoor workers can contract fungal respiratory infections, especially in hot, dry conditions.

Researchers admitted it can be difficult to prevent and treat workplace outbreaks due to conflicting priorities among employers, workers, labor unions, regulatory agencies, and trade associations. Financial and time constraints can also prevent employers from implementing solutions to outbreaks.


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