With measles cases rising by 300% in the first quarter of 2019, employers must remind staff -especially those working abroad with their families - about the importance of ensuring immunisations are up to date.
A global outbreak
UNICEF estimates that more than 20 million children worldwide miss out on the measles vaccination each year. 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 outbreaks in Europe have occurred in Ukraine, but globally 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. Currently, the NHS recommends that MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations are given at 13 months old, and between three and five years old – as a “booster” before school. But health advice differs country to country, so it’s important that staff are on top of inoculations.
Highly contagious and dangerous virus
Unlike 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. As a result, areas with a lot of people in one room, such as a school classroom or office space, can be a breeding-ground for the virus. It’s particularly important, therefore, that employees working in a country where there has been a recent outbreak - or where rates of measles cases continue to rise - ensure they and their dependants have been vaccinated.
There has been significant concern from the medical community about the measles outbreak, as the virus 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), pneumonia, severe diarrhoea and dehydration, 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.
Complacency and the anti-vax movement
The global outbreak of measles, particularly in wealthier countries, can in part be explained by the “anti-vax” movement. Parents in this movement have decided 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. The above statements of which have all been widely discredited, globally, by the scientific community.
The decision to vaccinate children or not can be a personal one, so 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 to double check all vaccinations are up to date with jabs, for both themselves and their children, and to seek medical advice swiftly if they have any doubts.
The global outbreak of measles 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 to double check whether their measles jabs are up to date.
The same theory should be applied with other known viruses across different countries too. Regularly communicate appropriate health information 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.
Sarah Dennis is Head of International at The Health Insurance Group, which she joined in 2014 following over 17 years working as a consultant and in senior management roles in international health insurance companies including Jelf Group, Norwich Union Healthcare (Aviva UK), HealthCare International, Goodhealth Worldwide Ltd. (Aetna Global Benefits) and RSA.
Winner of the International Intermediary of the Year 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2015 and Highly Commended in 2009, 2012 and 2016, in the Health Insurance & Protection Awards - Sarah is a speaker, committee member and contributor to both global industry conferences and international publications.
Sarah is responsible for corporate international private medical insurance and expatriate cover, and the development of exclusive products for SMEs and expatriate groups.