Spread of Measles a Potential Concern for Organizations

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – At least 764 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in the U.S. since January. That is the greatest number reported in that timeframe since 1994, and the highest since the disease was declared ‘eliminated’ in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students at two California universities were recently quarantined after it was revealed someone with measles may have exposed others. In New York City recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency and gave unvaccinated people living in parts of Brooklyn the choice of either receiving the measles vaccine or facing penalties of $1,000 for noncompliance.

Measles is highly contagious and can cause a variety of serious complications. While the disease will most likely not incur a workers’ compensation claim, employers are nevertheless advised to protect their workers and companies by understanding the facts about measles and taking specific actions if they find out an employee has the disease.

About Measles

Measles is a severe respiratory virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of the infected person. It spreads through contaminated air or by touching the infected surface, then touching the eyes, nose or mouth. The virus can live up to two hours in the area where the infected person coughed or sneezed. It can spread to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears.

Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat; and is followed by a rash that spreads over the body. There is no actual cure, only treatment for its symptoms and to address complications, such as bacterial infections.

In addition to the 23 states that have reported measles cases, nine have seen outbreaks, meaning at least three cases. These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought the disease back from countries that are having outbreaks, especially Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Brazil and the Philippines.

In addition to young children, those most at risk include unvaccinated adults over the age of 20, especially pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. People born prior to 1957 are presumed to have been exposed to measles before the vaccine was available and are considered immune.

Protection from Measles

The safest way to prevent the spread of measles is through vaccination. However, some people prefer not to be vaccinated for religious or other reasons. The MMR — measles, mumps rubella vaccine — is typically given to prevent all three diseases. The CDC says the vaccine is very safe and effective, although some people may require a second dose of the vaccine.

Immune globulin, which includes antibodies from human blood, can provide immediate short term protection against measles.

There is evidence that getting the measles vaccine within 72 hours after exposure may prevent the person from contracting the disease.

Workers traveling who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to receive two doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, to ensure protection. Those who are unsure whether they have been previously vaccinated can seek written documentation of vaccination, laboratory evidence of immunity, laboratory confirmation of measles, or birth in the U.S. before 1957. For those who are unsure whether they have been vaccinated and may be susceptible, experts say there is no harm in getting another dose of the vaccine.

For Employers

Finding out an employee has measles and may have exposed others can be challenging. Alerting the rest of the staff can cause undue panic and risks violating the employee’s privacy rights. Instead, employers are advised to contact their local health departments for information to prevent further exposure. After that, it is recommended employers inform other employees that someone diagnosed with measles was present in the workplace and that steps have been taken to address the issue.

Workers who may have been exposed and are concerned should be advised to consult with a medical professional who can “make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk, and determine if you are immune to measles,” said Benjamin Haynes, senior Press Officer of the CDC’s Infectious Disease Media Team. “If you are not immune to measles, MMR vaccine or … immune globulin may help reduce your risk of developing measles.”

Those who are not immune and do not get the vaccine “should stay away from settings where there are susceptible people (such as schools, hospitals or childcare) until your doctor says it’s okay to return,” Haynes said. “This will help ensure that you do not spread it to others.”

All employees should be educated about measles’ symptoms and immunization. While requiring vaccinations may not be possible or advised, employees can at least be encouraged to be vaccinated. The company may want to consider covering the cost and hiring an outside party to administer measles vaccines onsite.

Hiring a third party to clean the work area of an infected individual may be another option to consider. The affected worker should be encouraged to stay home until cleared by a physician.

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