HEALTH board chiefs across Scotland are being urged to ensure their staff are vaccinated against measles in preparation for a “likely” outbreak of the potentially deadly disease.
Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s chief medical officer, has sent a letter to all of Scotland’s NHS boards because of a risk of infection spreading through hospitals.
Earlier this month parents were advised to ensure their children are fully immunised with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine as a number of cases were confirmed in Scotland. Small outbreaks of the highly infectious disease have already been identified in Fife and Ayrshire.
Sir Harry states in his letter: “We are writing to alert you to the importance of ensuring the protection of health staff and the risks to patients at a time when there is likely to be an increasing number of measles cases and local outbreaks in Scotland.
“The level of the risk of measles transmission in Scotland is lower than in Wales or England. Levels are not high enough for sustained spread of the infection across large sections of the population. However the likelihood of measles entering Scotland has increased and will continue to increase given the situation in England and Wales, with a likely consequence being increasing numbers of sporadic cases, clusters and small outbreaks.”
Sir Harry continues: “Measles is a highly contagious agent with infection associated with a relatively low mortality but a significant complication rate.
Hospitals are at increased risk of transmission and, given the nature of the patient population, there is likely to be a greater impact on health if significant spread occurs.
“Given present levels of immunity to measles in the general population, large scale transmission in healthcare settings is unlikely but potential does exist. “
He adds that it is “particularly important” to ensure that staff working with vulnerable patients are protected. Staff should “ urgently” get at least a first dose of MMR.
Sir Harry said today: “While measles continues to circulate throughout the UK, risks are much lower in Scotland than England or Wales due to our higher vaccination uptake rates.
“While large scale transmission of measles in healthcare settings is unlikely, the protection of healthcare workers is an essential part of infection control procedures, particularly for staff working with vulnerable patients. So our precautionary approach is to raise awareness and offer healthcare staff a further opportunity to be vaccinated against measles if needed.”
The Scottish Government announced earlier this month that up to 50,000 unvaccinated children, aged ten to 17, are to be invited to have the MMR jab, following the recent rising number of measles cases in England and Wales.