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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

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