Measles cases rose by 300% in the first three months of 2019 and employers must remind staff, especially those working abroad with their families, about the importance of ensuring immunisations are up to date, urges The Health Insurance Group.

Global outbreak of measles

According to UNICEF, more than 20 million children worldwide miss out on the measles vaccination each year and this gap in protective coverage has triggered outbreaks from high-income countries in the Americas and Europe, to low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

The vast majority of European outbreaks occurred in Ukraine, but New York and the Philippines have also seen significant rises in the illness.  Businesses must remind employees to check that they, and their dependants, are adequately protected from the virus. Current NHS standards are for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations to be given at 13 months old, and between three and five years old – as a “booster” before school. But recommendations differ country to country, so it’s important that staff are on top of inoculations.

Measles is highly contagious and dangerous

Unlike a cold and other viral airborne illnesses, the measles virus remains in the air of the room for a further two hours once the infected person has left. This means that a high concentration of people in one room – such as a school classroom or office space – can be a breeding-ground for the virus.  For employees working in a country where there has been a recent outbreak, or where rates of measles cases continue to rise, it’s particularly important to ensure they and their dependants have been vaccinated.

Measles is a particularly dangerous virus, as it destroys the body’s ‘immune memory’ – leaving it susceptible to other viruses. It can cause debilitating or fatal complications, including encephalitis (an infection that leads to swelling of the brain), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections and permanent vision loss. It’s important that businesses communicate the potential reality of measles, to address any misconceptions there may be around the virus.

Challenging anti-vax movement and complacency

Part of the explanation for the global outbreak of measles, particularly in wealthier countries, is an “anti-vax” movement.  This relates to parents deciding against vaccinating their children for a variety of reasons, such as: fears the inoculation can cause autism; believing government recommendations for vaccinations are only so pharmaceutical companies can profit; and homeopathic remedies are just as effective. All statements of which have been widely discredited, globally, by the scientific community.

However, as the decision to vaccinate children or not can be a personal one, it’s important that businesses provide employees with the facts about measles jabs – by guiding them to reputable sites such as the NHS and WHO for accurate information.  Such communications can also serve as an important reminder to parents, who may be unsure if they or their children are up to date with jabs, to seek medical advice swiftly.

Sarah Dennis, head of international for The Health Insurance Group said:

“The outbreak of measles globally serves to highlight how viruses that are commonly believed to be ‘under control’, or assigned to history, can reappear suddenly. For businesses that have employees working abroad, particularly those with families, it’s important to remind them of the importance of ensuring their measles jabs are up to date.

“The same theory should be applied with other known viruses across different countries too. It’s important that employees regularly communicate health information related to staff working abroad, to ensure the best protection is in place. Outbreaks can occur quickly, yet communications within a country can be slow. So advising staff about the latest healthcare developments where they’re based, and what action can be taken, can help to ensure employees remain protected from outbreaks.”