In a September 12th press conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that they expect 2012 to become the worst year on record for West Nile virus cases in the United States. Though we have not yet topped 2002’s record-setting number of 3000 severe cases and 284 deaths, the current pace of cases being reported is so rapid that 2012 is expected to easily eclipse this record by year’s end. As discussed in a previous article, the West Nile virus, which is generally spread by mosquitos, causes symptoms ranging from flu-like symptoms to permanent damage and even death. At particular risk of contracting the virus are workers whose jobs require them to spend more time outdoors, such as construction workers, landscapers and utility workers. Recently, a lawsuit by a railroad worker against his employer highlighted not just the devastation West Nile can reap, but the responsibility employers have to ensure the safety of their employees against the virus.
As the dog days of summer in 2013 crept in, so began a number of disturbing news reports. Nationwide, more and more reports emerged of reports of West Nile virus. People weren’t just getting sick, however. Some were dying. Illinois swiftly joined the ranks of those states reporting cases, which by early September already numbered nearly 2000 cases nationwide – nearly three times the number of cases reported in the entirety of 2011. For outdoor workers, this resurgence of West Nile is of particular concern. Without a doubt, West Nile can have a devastating effect on both a workers’ health and quality of life.
Many of us remember the shocking stories that emerged in the late 1980’s during the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Great Britain. During the outbreak of BSE, more commonly known as “mad cow disease”, around 185,000 head of cattle were infected. The human toll was heart-breaking, with approximately 165 people contracting a human variant of the degenerative and ultimately fatal disease. Though most of those affected were limited to Great Britain, the tragedy inspired sweeping changes world-wide to the safety regulations for the care and processing of cattle. Thanks to these changes, outbreaks of the illness have been greatly reduced and confined. Recently, however, a case of mad cow disease was reported in the United States. It has, to date, been limited to a single cow, and stands little chance of causing a wider outbreak. However, this news is an unpleasant reminder that, despite a multitude of regulations, food-borne illnesses continue to be a serious threat to our safety. And sadly, too often this is a result of not just human error, but at times, even criminal negligence.
One thing is certain when an economic crisis hits – jobs become scarce and people become desperate for work. This was especially true during the Great Depression, when unemployment in the United States averaged 25%. As the need for jobs increased, not only were more workers willing to take riskier employment, fewer employers were making the effort to ensure worker safety. Few events highlight this more than the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster where hundreds of workers died or were sickened by exposure to silica dust. This tragedy not only raised awareness of silicosis, a dangerous occupational disease, but helped to improve safety standards and working conditions for all workers today.
When a worker files a workers’ compensation claim, a major hurdle can be proving that the injury or illness was caused by or at work. Too frequently, the employer and/or insurance provider may try every means possible to deny responsibility. One tactic is to deny a claim by stating that the injury or illness is due to some factor other than those at work. But a recent ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court may help workers whose claims are wrongly denied on the inflated basis of preexisting or mitigating factors.
This spring, the European Union saw one of the deadliest outbreaks of food poisoning ever recorded. The culprit, a new strain of E. coli, confounded doctors and investigators with its surprising virulence and resistance to antibiotics. Even months later, its affects are still being tabulated, with the World Health Organization to date citing over 50 fatalities and over 4,000 sickened. The food-borne illness largely struck residents of Germany, but its victims include citizens from fourteen other countries in the EU, Canada and the United States. Most recently, the death of a 65-year old man resident of Arizona was confirmed as being the first American fatality as a result of the outbreak.
Anyone who vacations in Las Vegas knows something about taking chances. One of the biggest appeals of visiting Vegas is the potential for anything to happen. But, while everyone hopes lady luck smiles on them, realistically the most you’ll probably return home with is a lighter bank account and a need for sleep. Odds are good, however, that no one expects their vacation souvenir to be a potentially deadly respiratory illness. Yet, recently the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada was linked to six cases of Legionnaires’ disease among guests visiting the resort.