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Workplace illnesses are not always industrial

Most people associate workplace illnesses with difficult jobs like coalmines, industrial steel, automotive mechanics and other jobs in which the human body is exposed to dozens of harmful chemicals on a daily basis. However, there are other jobs in which illness is an ever-present threat, working in the wilderness. Ecologists, biologists, conservationists, rangers and other professionals that are constantly engaging with wild animals are at huge risk of contracting diseases. These diseases are present in plants, animals and insects.

Pennsylvania's chief wild turkey biologist caught a wild turkey with lesions, or cuts, on its legs and feet. This biologist identified the disease as lymphoproliferative (or LPDV). It causes tumors in turkeys. It has been popping up all over the country since 1972, and only recently scientists concluded that the disease is harmless to humans. Additionally, people are free to consume wild turkey infected with LPDV. However, this story illustrates that disease is ever-present in the wilderness, and this is just one out of many which these professionals are exposed to every day. Rabies, Lyme disease, snake bites, poisonous arachnids and hundreds of possible diseases and toxins are always present.

Just because you aren't spraying bleach or scraping asbestos off of ceilings, does not mean you have any less risk for occupation-related illnesses. Take the time to identify and protect yourself against these potential diseases. Turkey cancer may not affect humans, but there are plenty of diseases in the forest that do. If you are an ecologist or ranger that contracts rabies or some other illness, you may have a claim for workers' compensation to cover your medical expenses and any lost wages. Workplace illnesses, unlike injuries, can take months to manifest, so it is important that you protect yourself. Pennsylvania, although fair, has a strict deadline and fee schedule to claim workers' compensation benefits.

Don't forfeit your rights because the disease took longer than expected to manifest symptoms. You carry the same protections as an industrial worker and deserve compensation. Consulting with an attorney experienced in workplace illnesses can help you understand your position. You deserve the same protections.

Source: Pittsburg Post-Gazette, "Calling in sick: A new wild turkey illness presents no threat to hunters," John Hays, Nov. 1, 2015

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