A graphic with a mosquito and Zika Virus in text.
Property Casualty


Joe Watts
Joe Watts
Property Casualty

A tiny pest is making a very large splash in the media as of late. The infamous mosquito is grasping headlines once again. First it was the West Nile Virus…now it’s the Zika Virus.

Just last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika Virus “a public health emergency of global concern.” Clusters of the virus have been reported in Central America, Brazil, and Polynesia. But how can such a little insect cause such a massive international insurance issue?

What is the Zika Virus?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Zika Virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of multiple subspecies of the Aedes mosquito. Because of human activity, the Aedes mosquito — which originated in Africa — can now be found on all continents except Antarctica. The CDC reports the virus is spreading explosively with the potential to reach pandemic levels.

While the issue seems recent, would you believe the first human outbreak of the Zika Virus was actually discovered in Uganda in the 1950s? It’s true. However, now 23 countries in the Americas have reported suggested cases of the virus in human populations, including several states in the U.S.

What happens if someone contracts the virus?

One would think a pesky mosquito isn’t cause for huge worry…and that’s partially right. Symptoms of the infection may include fever, rash, arthralgia, and conjunctivitis, and only about 1 in 5 infected with the Zika Virus become ill or show symptoms. On top of that, hospitalization and deaths associated from the Zika Virus are rare — thankfully. However, this infection has been associated with incomplete brain development in babies, which is incredibly concerning.

Unfortunately, there’s no Zika Virus vaccine. Once a person is infected, the virus incubation period is approximately 3 to 12 days, which means people who are infected while traveling may not show symptoms until they return to their home country.

If you or any of your employees are planning on traveling and looking for advice on protective measures, please visit the CDC’s website. The site contains recommendations as well as in-depth information on the virus, where it’s been reported, and much more.

What are the insurance implications and risks to employers?

The Zika Virus does carry with it some insurance implications. I’ve done my best to outline items below that you should take into consideration: 

Business Travel Accident

Business Travel Accident coverage can cover a wide variety of employees. Employers should understand that limitations and exclusions in coverage may exist for the Zika Virus, especially if Disease and Illness Hazard is excluded or an Out of Country Medical benefit isn’t included. Employers should consult with their insurance carrier and insurance broker to determine the appropriate coverage and actions for traveling employees.

Foreign Voluntary Workers’ Compensation

There may be coverage for Zika Virus-related illness in an employer’s Foreign Voluntary Workers’ Compensation policy. Many carriers provide coverage for indigenous disease. Generally, the WHO will proclaim or declare a disease to be indigenous, and many insurers look to this when defining coverage. Employers should consult with their insurance carrier and broker to determine how coverage may apply.

Employer’s Liability

Claims that affect family members due to an employee’s course and scope of employment generally fall under Employer’s Liability coverage. Coverage could be triggered if an employee, known to be pregnant, travels for work to a country with known Zika Virus warnings (and subsequently contracts the virus). There could even be a risk for sending a female of known child-bearing age to a country with known Zika Virus warnings, as the long-term effects of the virus aren’t fully understood. Employers should address these risks via employee manuals and other procedures when offering expatriate and other overseas assignments.

General Liability

Direct injury to an unborn child of an internationally assigned employee may fall within General Liability coverage.

Insureds and risk managers should consider education and training to familiarize staff and employees of the Zika Virus and the readily available information regarding prevention and response plans.

Brazil is a “hot spot” for the Zika Virus. With the 2016 Summer Olympics occurring there, many thousands of global participants and spectators will be exposed to mosquitos, some of which will be the Aedes or “Zika mosquito.” Since Miami and the Southeast U.S. are gateways to Latin America, it’s likely that the Zika Virus will find its way to the U.S. Women who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant and plan on visiting countries with reported outbreaks (or at-risk countries) should fully educate themselves as to the risk of the Zika Virus.

Want to know more about Traveling, Insurance and Risk?

Whew…that was a tough topic to cover, but certainly one of great importance. With all of the information provided, is there anything more you’d like to know? Do you have questions about insurance coverages as they pertain to viruses, like the Zika Virus? Is your company doing anything in terms of the Zika Virus to protect your employees and business? Let us know! Comment below and let’s start a conversation.

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