Workplaces asked to help fight diseases

Press Release – Ministry of Health

Employers are being enlisted to help fight two disease outbreaks. Measles and whooping cough both have the potential to disrupt workplaces if employees or their children catch either disease. December 20, 2011

Workplaces asked to help fight diseases

Employers are being enlisted to help fight two disease outbreaks.

Measles and whooping cough both have the potential to disrupt workplaces if employees or their children catch either disease.

Latest figures show nearly 600 measles and more than 1700 whooping cases to date this year (see attached background documents).

Measles is very infectious – an unimmunised person has a more than 90 per cent chance of catching this disease if they come into contact with someone who has it.

Most of the measles cases so far have been in Auckland. But there are cases elsewhere particularly in Wellington. Whooping cough (or pertussis) cases are happening in many parts of the country.

In Wellington, Regional Public Health has asked employers to help promote messages to their staff about both diseases.

The Wellington Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, which has over 1,100 members within the Wellington region, has been supportive of the initiative and has contacted its members informing them of the dangers associated with measles in the workplace.

Chief Executive Ken Harris knows first-hand about measles. As an adult Mr Harris caught the disease and was advised to stay away from work, one of the reasons being to protect pregnant colleagues.

Mr Harris says besides the disruption to workplaces, it will be unfortunate for employees to catch this disease during their holidays.

A similar get-immunised message has gone out from the Ministry of Health to public sector agencies.

One business in the health sector is taking it a further step. Labtests this month began immunising around 80 workers who take specimens from the community.

Labtests chief operating officer Steven Martin says those staff can each see up to 60 people a day – so it’s protection for them, and for the patients. He says other staff, such as lab workers, may be offered vaccines in the New Year.

District health boards have also been working to ensure their frontline staff are immunised.

Holidays are a risk time for spread of measles and whooping cough. Earlier this month, Auckland Regional Public Health Service urged people to get immunised against measles before they go on their holidays.

Wellington Regional Public Health medical officer of health Dr Margot McLean says it’s a message for the whole country. She is urging people travelling to Auckland and surrounding holiday destinations to get immunised before they head away.

Many people believe measles is mainly a disease of the young, but at present around half the cases are in teenagers and adults.

The Ministry of Health’s chief medical officer, Don Mackie, says that low immunisation rates in the past mean that people aged under 42 may not be fully protected.

More than one in every six people catching measles this year is needing hospital treatment, but the free MMR vaccine offers highly-effective protection. It is available from your family doctor for anyone under the age of 42 who is not fully immunised with two doses of the vaccine.

Whooping cough vaccine is free for babies and children. Adults can also be immunised, although this is not publically-funded.

ENDS

See attached documents for latest figures on the prevalence of measles and whooping cough, and facts about the diseases and immunisation.

Measles Background – December 20, 2011

The latest figures up to Thursday, December 15, last week show 568 cases have been recorded since the start of the year nationwide.

Nearly four new confirmed or suspected cases are on average being reported a day.

Nearly 80 per cent of cases are in the Auckland region.

The Ministry of Health says businesses can help with steps like these:

• Circulating information to staff about measles immunisation and benefits – protecting themselves and their families. • Working with regional public health staff to arrange vaccinations on-site if that is feasible.

One in three people with measles develop complications, including ear infections, pneumonia or diarrhoea. In rare cases measles can cause brain damage and death.

Immunisation is the best way to protect yourself and others from the disease.

It’s not just babies and young children, who can get measles – older children, teenagers and adults who are not fully immunised are also at risk.

Adults aged 42 years and over (born before the measles vaccine became available in 1969) are considered at lower risk because they were probably exposed to measles as a child.

Anyone with a weakened immune system, for example, people who are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer, or people who take high-dose steroid medications, are at higher risk of severe measles infection.

Pregnant women who are not immunised and who get measles are at risk of miscarriage, still birth and low birth weights.

Non-immune pregnant women should not be immunised during pregnancy, but it is very important their family and close contacts are immunised to protect the pregnant mother and unborn baby.

The MMR vaccine is an injection that immunises people against measles, mumps and rubella. The vaccine is free for anyone who needs it – this includes the visit to the doctor.

Over 90 percent of people are protected with one dose. This increases to 95 percent, if people have two doses.

By getting immunised you are not only protecting yourself or your child – you’ll also stop this disease from spreading.

You can get free health advice from a registered nurse 24 hours a day from Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you have any questions.

For more general information about immunisation please call the Immunisation Advisory Centre’s free helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863), go to the Ministry of Health’s website www.moh.govt.nz/immunisation or the Immunisation Advisory Centre website www.immune.org.nz.

For more information about measles, go to the Ministry of Health’s website at www.moh.govt.nz/measles.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Background – December 20, 2011

There have been 1719 notifications of whooping cough reported up to December 9 this year in New Zealand so far, compared to 808 in all of 2010.

In the past two weeks, 325 new cases of pertussis were notified, of which 96 were confirmed and the rest probable or still under investigation.

Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread by coughing and sneezing.

It can cause severe coughing attacks, vomiting and serious complications, like pneumonia and brain inflammation. It is particularly severe in babies and young children.

Babies can become very ill and may not be able to feed or breathe properly. Many need to be hospitalised. Many babies catch it from their older siblings or parents – often before they are old enough to be vaccinated.

Whooping cough can last up to three months and is sometimes called the 100-day cough. It is most infectious in the first couple of weeks, when symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, slight fever and a mild irritating cough.

The next ‘coughing’ stage usually lasts anywhere from one to ten weeks. This is when babies and children get coughing attacks followed by a big breath in or high-pitched ‘whoop’.

Adults generally do not get the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound. Infants and young children may vomit with coughing bouts.

There are some steps parents can take to help protect their baby:

• Immunise on time. Babies need to be immunised at six weeks and three and five months of age – they are not protected from whooping cough until they have had all three doses. Delaying immunisation puts babies at higher risk of being admitted to hospital with whooping cough

• Make sure older children are up to date with their immunisations. Children need booster doses at four and eleven years of age.

• If a baby is sick, take them to a doctor

• Keep a baby away from anyone with a cough and never cough on babies

• Adults can be vaccinated up to every 10 years

o If you work in regular contact with infants consider getting a booster vaccine o If you are pregnant consider getting a booster dose anytime from 3 months onwards o If you have a newborn in the house parents and other close contacts of the infant can get themselves vaccinated to reduce the chance of infecting the infants who are at highest risk

Protection wanes over time. People can have whooping cough even if they have been immunised or have previously had the disease.

About 84 percent of babies are protected once they have completed three doses of vaccine at six weeks and three and five months of age.

The vaccine protection usually starts to reduce after approximately six years, so it is important that four and 11-year-olds get booster immunisations.

The vaccine is free for all infants aged six weeks and three and five months, with booster doses given free of charge to children at four and eleven years.

If people have questions or concerns about immunisation, people can: • talk to their family doctor or practice nurse • call the Immunisation Advisory Centre toll-free advisory line 0800 IMMUNE or 0800 466 863 • go to the Immunisation Advisory Centre website http://www.immune.org.nz or the Ministry of Health website http://www.moh.govt.nz/immunisation ENDS

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