Measles Outbreak in the U.S.: Workplace Containment


Several weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Health Advisory to notify public health departments, healthcare facilities and the general population about a multi-state outbreak of measles, and to provide guidance for healthcare providers nationwide. The state of awareness for the disease has remained high since that time.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, which affects mostly children. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons. Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10-12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downwards. It spreads in close-contact environments and can remain active and contagious for up to two hours in the air or on surfaces. Therefore transmission can occur without face-to-face contact.


There are approximately 20 million measles cases around the world every year. Measles outbreaks and importations continue to occur in many countries to varying degrees.

Measles in a workplace can be serious and disruptive. The following actions should be considered to control any potential infection:

  • Monitor public health communications.
  • Brief all personnel, on-site and off, of the symptoms of the disease and request that they report to a medical testing facility should they show signs of these symptoms. Posters and other educational materials can be found on the CDC website.
  • Consider installation of soap and/or hand sanitizer dispensers around the office.
  • Ensure routine hand hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Enforce routine workplace cleaning and disinfection, as well as more frequent cleaning of commonly touched hard surfaces, such as food trays, lavatory surfaces, and door handles.
  • Encourage employees to speak with their doctor about any potential exposure concerns.
  • Promptly notify state or local public health officials of any suspected measles cases, and take steps to minimize the risk of measles spreading to other employees.
    • Clean the areas in which an employee with a suspected or confirmed measles case was present.
    • Consider asking unvaccinated employees to remain at home for 4-21 days after exposure to a measles case.
    • Take note of the staff members and other patients who were in the area during the time the suspected measles patient was in the facility, and for one hour after the suspect measles patient left. 
    • Keep any ill persons quarantined from others as much as possible.
    • Provide plastic bags for disposal of tissues.
    • All employees should monitor their health for 21 days following a case in the workplace.

Employers with questions regarding employee management should contact legal counsel to better understand the situation, which can vary from state to state.

The good news is that historically, the disease spread peaks in late winter or spring, signaling that the current outbreak in the U.S. may be at the end of the normal, annual cycle. Keep following the Crisis Management Center Blog, "Breaking News," for more updates, or contact a Risk Services expert to help your business prepare for almost any type of public health crisis.