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Here's What American Business Leaders Are Doing to Help Protect You from the Zika Virus

An update on the risks associated with Zika and what business leaders are doing to help you protect yourself this summer.

When it comes to the Zika virus, there are things we know and things we don't know yet.

Here's what we know:

The Zika virus has been spreading through the Americas for some time now. We know that four out of five infected people will have no symptoms. We know the population most at risk is pregnant women and their developing babies, because we know Zika can cause severe birth defects like microcephaly.

And we know Zika can be transmitted through one bite of an infected mosquito and through sex with a man infected with Zika, which means we also know that efforts to contain the spread of Zika must focus on things like vector control, personal protection from mosquito bites (wearing mosquito repellant, long sleeves, and pants when traveling to Zika-affected areas and for a few weeks when you return home), and effective diagnostics.

Here's what we don't know: 

We don't know how often birth defects occur in pregnant women infected with Zika, or if there are other risk factors.  And we don't know the long-term prognosis for Zika-infected infants with microcephaly or other brain damage or whether there are other developmental impacts for babies who are born to mothers infected with Zika during pregnancy. 

While we have had hundreds of travel-associated Zika cases, we don’t know if, when, and where there will be local transmission of Zika from mosquitos in the continental United States and Hawaii. We know areas of the country with the kinds of mosquitos that are known to spread Zika, but that does not mean that there will be Zika outbreaks in those areas.  This is why we must be prepared.

That's why it's vital we act now --and it's going to take all of us across sectors to effectively address this issue. In February, President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help state and local public health officials enact measures to protect the American people. While they've failed to take action, private sector leaders are stepping up in a comprehensive and big way. 

The CDC's Dr. Frieden highlighted a few businesses that are doing what they can to provide Americans with what they need. I'm pleased to say that, this week, even more business leaders are stepping up -- companies like Airbnb, CVS and RiteAid, and United Airlines and American Airlines. 

Take a look:

Airbnb: At Airbnb, we are working proactively to address the travel concerns that have arisen due to the Zika virus and to date, we have taken the following steps to support our community:

  • Updated our Extenuating Circumstances policy so that pregnant women, women who plan to become pregnant, and their family members can cancel their reservations for a full refund if they have planned travel to an area affected by the virus.
  • Retrofitted our corporate blog so there is a dedicated section which notifies customers of the announcement made by the World Health Organization (WHO) which classifies the virus as a global public health emergency, communicates travel notices issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and states our corporate policy on refunds for cancellations resulting from the virus.
  • Messaged over 100,000 hosts that live in areas impacted by the virus with helpful information from the WHO and local health authorities.

American Airlines:  American continues to be in close communication with all of its crews regarding Zika, paying close attention to health alerts in impacted areas. American instituted a refund policy to accommodate pregnant customers who may have been unaware of Zika in the region to which they were traveling. If a customer is pregnant and traveling to a destination in Latin America or the Caribbean affected by the Zika virus, that customer and their travel companions may request a refund for tickets purchased on or before March 31, 2016.

Creative Pharmacist has empowered over 1,000 independent, community pharmacists throughout the United States to share CDC-recommended Zika prevention information in forms of infographics and consultation.  Utilizing in-store television to display Zika prevention tips within community pharmacies via an Apple TV app (Creative Pharmacist TV), engaging pharmacists through educational training sessions on their role in Zika prevention, and empowering pharmacists by developing one-on-one educational sessions that outline Zika prevention tips.

CVS Health: Established dedicated locations in our Puerto Rico stores for Zika-focused educational messaging and products, while also providing customers in Puerto Rico with important information pertaining to Zika via text messaging, delivered in either English or Spanish.

Ecolab has been working for several months to communicate the risks of Zika virus and strategies to prevent its transmission. Ecolab’s Global Pest Elimination team recently launched an enhanced mosquito program based on three principles – inspect, protect and prevent – and is working in partnership with customers to employ strategies to reduce risk. In June, Ecolab is hosting a series of global webinars on Zika virus and strategies to reduce the presence of mosquitoes for hotels, restaurants and other businesses.  The company also developed a summary of Zika virus and an accompanying infographic. 

Good Neighbor Pharmacy has taken a number of actions to educate patients and the public about the potential dangers of the Zika virus, including the creation of an informative microsite and digital marketing materials for consumers looking to obtain health education, news and recommended steps on prevention. Good Neighbor Pharmacy also supplied 70+ independently owned pharmacies in Puerto Rico with in-store education collateral for patients who may be pregnant and provided in-store planograms to advocate the purchase of preventative goods to those at a higher risk of virus infection.

IDEO conducted a two-week innovation and design sprint with the CDC and local communities in Puerto Rico to research and prototype alternative methods for engaging Puerto Ricans in protecting pregnant women from Zika. 

USAID and OpenIDEO are urgently seeking ideas and concepts for solutions that creatively prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks like Zika via OpenIDEO's collaborative innovation platform. Ideas will be solicited until June 17 and top concepts will receive financial and design support for implementation.    

Rite Aid has educated and supplied their over 11,000 pharmacists information on preventing Zika infection and transmission to share with their customers. Rite Aid will also devote shelf signage in their stores that will reference the ability of their pharmacists to educate at risk customers on the Zika virus. Additionally, Rite Aid will distribute a version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention patient brochures to their stores to be displayed on the drop off counter and lace shelf talkers in key departments including pregnancy, vitamins, and insect repellent. 

SC Johnson is ensuring an adequate supply of  DEET-based mosquito repellant products for the United States and have given more than $3 million in product and assistance to the CDC Foundation, AmeriCares, the American Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross.  SCJ is providing consumers with educational materials in 13 languages and, as the world's leading manufacturer of personal mosquito repellent, they have ramped up supply across the globe to help respond to Zika.  

Starlight Children’s Foundation will provide on the ground distribution of resources for the youth population affected by the Zika virus.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has undertaken a number of actions to underscore the importance of careful and consistent contraceptive use to avoid unplanned pregnancy and the possible transmission of Zika, including:

  • A nationally representative public opinion survey on knowledge, intentions, and behavior change regarding Zika, contraception, and unplanned pregnancy (results to be released in mid-June) and other information, resources, and links on a dedicated Zika  
  • A series of easy-to-understand articles on Zika and unplanned pregnancy for women age 18-29,
  • A series of articles for providers from providers on topics such as reproductive counseling in the age of Zika virus
  • A series of articles designed specifically for those age13-17

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), is broadly disseminating information to park and recreation professionals on how they can provide public education and other actions they can take to prevent the spread of Zika.  NRPA is communicating about the threats posed by Zika through its national publication Parks and Recreation Magazine, its blog Open Space, through social media, webinars, conference sessions, and an online Zika and Parks Resource Center that aggregates the most up-to-date information and resources about Zika.

United Airlines: United Airlines is sharing CDC guidance on the Zika virus with customers through various communications channels, including online and the United Hub. It will continue to communicate through its websites, social media and other applicable channels to help customers stay safe when traveling this summer. United is also enabling any customer traveling to a Zika affected country to receive a refund on their ticket or amend their travel date or destination without a change fee if they purchased their ticket on or before February 29, 2016. Over 45,000 customers have so far made use of this offer.

Under President Obama, the U.S. government is using the resources we have to fire on all cylinders. That means working hard with States and local officials to undertake immediate, time-critical activities such as mosquito control, increasing lab capacity, development of faster diagnostics and vaccines, and other prevention and response efforts in the US and within the Americas.

While there much that scientists are still  learning about Zika, we do know steps to reduce the risk of Zika, and a big part of that is education and communication.  Our experiences with Ebola highlighted the need for clear, factual communication with communities when local mosquito transmission occurs.  We are working with State and local governments to exercise response plans and prepare for this as we speak.  

And we won't stop calling on Congress to do their part too. Because this virus is taking a devastating human toll on families, and the longer Congress waits, the more of a threat this epidemic will post to Americans in the continental U.S.

To learn more about what's going on with Zika, go here: 

And check in with the CDC to get real-time updates on what you need to know to protect you and your family:

Amy Pope is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor.