Workers in Child- and Healthcare Among Occupations at Greater Risk of Exposure to Measles

Source: Blaj Gabriel - 123RF

OSHA has a new webpage on measles, a highly contagious, potentially serious illness with more than 1,000 confirmed cases in 28 states in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Workers in child care and health care, laboratories, and environmental services and those who travel abroad have the greatest risk of exposure and infection. 

The webpage provides information about preventing and reducing workers’ measles exposure, along with information on vaccination and treatment.

Measles is a highly contagious illness that primarily spreads via:

  • Droplets or airborne particles from the noses, mouths, or throats of infected people;
  • Contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions or saliva; and
  • Contact with surfaces contaminated with respiratory secretions or saliva.

According to the CDC, despite a great reduction in the number of cases and near eradication of the disease in the United States at the start of the 21st century, measles continues to occur domestically.

Measles is usually a childhood disease but can affect individuals of any age. Outbreaks are most common in the winter and spring.

Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, red eyes, and white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading to the rest of the body.

Measles is typically most contagious several days before the rash appears. In some cases, measles can lead to severe complications, including fatal pneumonia.

Workers may be exposed to measles whenever the virus is circulating in the community. Some workers also may be exposed to infected individuals who arrive in the U.S. from abroad.

Workers who perform services or other activities in homes in affected communities also may be exposed. Workers who have not received the measles vaccine or who have not had the disease can get measles if they are exposed.

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can prevent measles. For the vast majority of recipients, the vaccine is safe and effective. As with almost any vaccine, however, a small number of recipients may experience allergic reactions, side effects, or other adverse events. The benefits of vaccination typically far outweigh these risks.

Among the workers who are at the greatest risk if the infection are:

  • Healthcare and dental workers;
  • Childcare and school workers;
  • Laboratory workers;
  • Environmental services workers;
  • Workers who are pregnant; and
  • Workers who travel abroad.

OSHA states that “The best way to prevent workers from getting measles on the job is to encourage workers at risk of exposure to get the MMR vaccine.”