Travel, Wellness

Protecting Employees From Infectious Diseases

Author Chandana Balasubramanian , 07-Dec-2021

One million people were infected in the first three months after COVID-19 was detected, and 50,000 died. In six months, 10 million were infected, and more than 500,000 were dead [1]. These grim numbers show that an emerging infection in one region can spread worldwide into a full-blown pandemic in just a few months.


Though the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants have been contained in some countries, outbreaks continue to surface in others. While travel trickled down to a minimum in 2020 and 2021, international travel is expected to pick up again.


According to data from International SOS, international trip volumes are growing 10% each month, and domestic travel has increased 7x since the pandemic first began [3]. However, the world of business travel has forever changed.


What is Considered Business Travel?


Business travel is any travel undertaken to conduct business. This can include everything from attending conferences and meetings to meeting clients and customers. Business travel can also involve traveling to trade fairs and exhibitions or researching potential new markets. While some business travel is local, many businesses require their employees to travel long distances, sometimes internationally. 

While business travel was mainly restricted to face-to-face meetings, technological advances have allowed many business transactions to be conducted remotely. As a result, business travel is now more about building relationships than closing deals.

There are many reasons why people might choose to travel for work. For some, it is an opportunity to meet new people and learn about other cultures. For others, it is a chance to see the world and experience new things. And for others still, it is simply a necessary part of doing business. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that business travel can be an incredibly enriching experience. While business travel can benefit companies and employees, it can also be expensive and time-consuming. Plus, in a world post-COVID, there are more considerations than ever.


How Infectious Diseases Impact Business Travel


The outbreak of any infectious disease can significantly impact business travel. Postponements and cancellations of meetings and conferences are common during outbreaks as organizations seek to reduce the risk of their employees being exposed to the disease. In some cases, entire countries may be placed under travel restrictions, making it impossible for businesses to operate as usual. 

The outbreak of a new infectious disease can significantly impact business travel. For example, the outbreak of SARS in 2003 led many businesses to cancel or postpone trips to affected areas. The Ebola virus also significantly impacted business travel, with companies imposing restrictions on travel to and from affected countries. In addition, the recent Zika virus outbreak has led several companies to restrict or cancel business travel to affected areas. The outbreak of COVID has also been particularly disruptive, with many businesses having to adapt their plans to stay operational. 

The impact of infectious diseases on business travel will likely continue to be felt for some time. Businesses must be aware of the risks and plan accordingly by protecting workers from infectious diseases. By understanding the potential impact of an outbreak, businesses can minimize the disruption to their operations and ensure that they can resume normal operations when the situation improves quickly.


Keeping Traveling Employees Safe From Infectious Disease


Before COVID-19, employees who had to travel for work would not hesitate to jump on a flight at a moment’s notice. But now, in the wake of a global pandemic, business travelers are experiencing some hesitancy. An October 2021 survey by the Morning Consult group found that 39% of business travelers predicted they would not travel again [2].

Others who are willing to travel for work want to know that their employers have updated their ‘Duty of Care’ regarding health and travel away from home. After all, during the pandemic, the threat of a new virus was coupled with travel restrictions, nationwide lockdowns, expensive mandatory quarantine requirements, and high levels of fear and uncertainty of being stranded. Several countries also deal with protests and volatile civil disobedience that can erupt suddenly due to public health policies. 

When workers travel for business, they can be exposed to various infectious diseases. Companies should focus on providing information and resources to reduce infectious disease exposure risk to protect their employees. This includes offering pre-travel guidance, such as vaccinations and medication, and post-travel support, such as monitoring for signs and symptoms of illness. 

Companies are responsible for protecting their workers from infectious diseases when they travel, after all. This is especially true for companies whose employees travel to countries with high rates of infectious diseases. This is why companies like International SOS, experts in international security threat protection, added global health risk management as part of their services.


How Employers are Leveraging GIDEON’s Data on Outbreaks to Protect Workers with a Traveling Workplace


“Our team uses GIDEON to get credible data to compile information about outbreaks and understand whether a disease is endemic or not in an area.”
– Prabha Xaxa, MD, Deputy Medical Director at International SOS


International SOS helps organizations protect their global business travelers and expatriate employees from health and security threat risks. They offer over 11,000 experts in over 1,000 global locations to provide round-the-clock support.

International SOS partnered with GIDEON to access a detailed history of outbreaks worldwide, cross-border events, and easy-to-compare disease-specific charts on prevalence, incidence, and mortality rates. The company and its clients needed updated epidemiological data, like the comprehensive information in the GIDEON infectious diseases database.

Tracking COVID-19 outbreaks is only one step of the puzzle. Many other infectious disease pathogens have the power to infect new shores. For example, Dengue is not restricted to tropical countries anymore. Dengue cases have been reported in the United States and other new high-risk countries. In July 2021, monkeypox found its way to the United States from across the globe. Through GIDEON, International SOS also gets access to information about the epidemiology of potential biothreats like Anthrax. This information can help employers protect their workers both in house and as they travel. Health care workers even use GIDEON data to help prevent infection spread in their workplace.

Companies are increasingly sending employees on business trips to foreign countries as the world becomes more connected. While this can be an excellent opportunity for professional development, it also poses a significant risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Fortunately, some steps companies can take to protect their traveling workers.


Steps to Stop the Spread Before it Starts


To protect workers, businesses can start by ensuring that employees are up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations. In addition, companies can provide employees with guidance on staying healthy while traveling. It is also necessary to provide employees with information about how to avoid contracting infectious diseases in the first place. This might include information on handwashing, food safety, and avoiding contact with sick people. Another one of the most important things companies can do is provide employees with comprehensive insurance coverage. This will ensure that employees can access the best possible medical care if they become ill while abroad.

Employees should also be aware of the symptoms of common infectious diseases and be instructed to seek medical attention if they develop any concerning symptoms. By taking these precautions, businesses can help to reduce the risk of their employees contracting an infectious disease while traveling.

Organizations cannot rely on business travelers reporting symptoms of an infectious disease before taking action or offering support. Incubation periods can take anywhere from a day to a month or more. Meanwhile, unsuspecting employees may continue to travel and risk their health and that of everyone they meet.

We live in a global economy and cannot isolate ourselves from other states and countries for long. As corporate travel begins to ramp up, one thing is sure – employers need to offer greater protection and support to their domestic and overseas travelers.

[1]National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases , “COVID-19, MERS & SARS,” NIH, 20 10 2021. [Online] [Accessed 25 11 2021].
[2]International SOS, “ENABLING SAFE TRAVEL IN A COVID-19 WORLD,” International SOS, 2021. [Online][Accessed 25 11 2021].
[3]Morning Consult, “For Business Travel, a ‘Return to Normal’ Will Never Happen,” Morning Consult, 18 11 2021. [Online][Accessed 25 11 2021].
Chandana Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network, and has a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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