For many of us, measles is something that just happens during childhood; uncomfortable for a few days but soon out of the way and forgotten about. However, for more than just a few, it is far more serious than that.
Measles is highly infectious. It often starts with a high fever and a rash, which normally clears up within 10 days – but complications can include pneumonia, meningitis, blindness and seizures. It can be severe, particularly in immunosuppressed individuals and young infants. During pregnancy, it can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage and a baby being born prematurely or with a low birth weight.
Measles cases on the rise
The number of cases of measles being reported is now on the rise. During 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a large increase in measles cases in Europe , and cases are still rising. Over 40,000 people were infected, which compares to 941 during 2022.
Between January and October 2023 20,918 people across Europe were admitted to hospital with measles. In two countries, five measles-related deaths were also reported. NHS England estimates that many children under the age of 16 are unprotected and therefore at risk of contracting measles and becoming ill – or even dying – from it. Therefore, parents and carers are being contacted and advised to get their children fully immunised against the disease.
In 2023, measles affected all age groups. Overall, two in five cases were in children aged 1-4, and one in five cases was in adults aged 20 and above. The UK Health Security Agency says that immunity levels in the UK are significantly below what would be needed to prevent the spread of measles through particular age groups. Young people born between 1998 and 2004 (aged 19 to 25 years in 2023) are the most susceptible and they are now part of the adult workforce.
In recent years, the number of children vaccinated against measles has fallen. Uptake for the first dose of the vaccine in children aged 2 years in England is 89% and uptake of 2 MMR doses in children aged 5 years is 85%. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization.
What employers need to do
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others affected by the work that they do, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure a safe working environment should there be an outbreak of measles in the workplace. Many adult workers will have children, and many younger people in the workplace may not even be vaccinated. Some employees may have compromised immune systems, or have someone in their family who is affected by this issue.
For employers who are concerned about how to raise the subject of vaccination amongst their workforce, or who are seeking to formulate a policy and procedures to protect vulnerable employees and/or family, taking advice from an expert in employment law is highly recommended.
Steps employers can take
- Encourage employees who have been exposed to measles to inform their line manager and seek medical attention immediately.
- Ensure that employees with symptoms of measles self-isolate and do not attend work, or work from home, if possible.
- Carry out a risk assessment.
- Encourage staff to have a measles vaccine (MMR vaccine). However, for most organisations there is no legal requirement so ensure this is communicated as not mandatory.
- Make staff aware of the disease, provide information on symptoms, the vaccine and if there are any concerns to communicate them.
- Have an up-to-date vaccination policy and communicate this clearly amongst staff.
- Healthcare workers fall under chapter 12 of the Green Book and should be able to provide documentary evidence of previous vaccination or immunity against measles.
For more information on the items mentioned in this article such as a vaccination policy, employer responsibilities and sick pay relating to measles members can access the full template by clicking here.