Workplace health – reducing employee STD risk

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Image: Smarak Samarjeet, Flickr
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Workplace health and safety continue to be important and costly issues for employers. One area where workplace education could also play an important role is in reducing the spread of sexual transmitted infections (STDs). Unfortunately, even companies with well-developed wellness programmes tend to shy away any education related to STDs. This is in spite of the fact that STDs are most likely to hit young workers, in the prime of their careers. Transmission is also usually preventable, although many people are unaware of the risks and effective prevention techniques. 

STDs and the Workplace

STDs can be a touchy subject. In the 1990s, some companies violated the privacy of potential employees by secretly performing HIV testing during pre-employment screenings. Social taboos also make discussion of STDs more challenging. 

The risk to employers, however, should not be dismissed. Even easily treatable STDs like chlamydia can result in lost hours from work and poorer worker performance. Untreated, chlamydia and even cystitis can cause permanent medical issues. 

For employers with health plans, the potential costs are even greater. Additional prescription costs and higher use of insurance plans will impact the bottom line. Sick workers can also have a negative on the rest of the workplace. Maintaining a positive, healthy work environment has been shown to lead to better performance and improved client relations. 

What Your Company Can Do

The first step is to make it clear to employees that their privacy will be respected. The social stigma of STD is difficult enough without making employees concerned that their personal health will be made public. It is important that workers are given information about STDs without anyone being made to feel that they have been targeted or otherwise treated differently from other workers.

Education is the key to preventing the spread of STDs and making sure those who are infected receive prompt medical care. Studies have shown that workplace education can reduce the incidence of AIDS and other STDs. This can have a huge impact on the workplace and on the community, at large.

It is important to realise that employees may not just lack information about STD. One of the biggest challenges is the large amount of misinformation. What your employees think they know may be more dangerous to them to that what they don’t know. Younger workers are more likely to believe HIV and herpes can be cured. They also often think that STDs are only found among people who are older or unclean. Many people count on being able to see if someone has a disease when most STDs show no visible symptoms.  

People with STDs often don’t even realise they have a disease. For example, half of men and the majority of women with chlamydia don’t have any symptoms. HIV is symptom-free until AIDS-related illnesses develop and people can be carriers of HIV for years prior to the development of AIDS. The lack of symptoms increases the odds that they will unknowingly spread the disease to other people. Early treatment is also important in order to advance the progression of STDs.

To help those who might have an STD but are nervous or embarrassed about seeing their family doctor, a home test is now available for chlamydia. This is great news since chlamydia is the most common STD in the UK. Once diagnosed, chlamydia infections can be treated with antibiotics. Untreated chlamydia can cause infertility in women, making early diagnosis and treatment particularly important. 

Protecting Your Workers

While information about STDs can be embarrassing for many, it is important to weigh a few moments of nervous laughter against the potential risks STDs present to your employees and your company. Spreading information about how to avoid spreading STDs can be one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce your company’s costs. While you’ll never know exactly how many infections were prevented or caught early by your efforts, you’ll feel better knowing you helped protect your workers.

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