Three specialists from Boston's Infectious Disease Bureau spent the day at the New England Aquarium examining immunization records to decide who could return to work and who would have to sit out the rest of the week.
The aquarium staff learned Friday that a 17-year-old volunteer from Vermont had been working there on May 19 and 22 while contagious with measles. In addition to trying to notify as many people as possible who visited the aquarium on those days, the aquarium has been working to determine which employees have had the proper vaccinations.
About half of the 175 employees thought to have been exposed were cleared to return to work by mid-afternoon today, said aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse. Many more volunteers and contract workers also needed to be screened, he said.
Employees born in the United States before 1957 were cleared automatically, said Dr. Anita Barry, director of the Boston Public Health Commission Infectious Disease Bureau. The virus was so common then that it is assumed that everyone was exposed, she said.
All others were required to present an immunization record showing they had received two shots of an effective measles vaccine, or a blood test showing that they were immune to the virus. That was most challenging for middle-aged employees whose childhood medical records were difficult to track down, LaCasse said.
“Right now, we have a lot of staff who are either working from home or unable to work," he said.
This has been an atypical year for measles in the United States, with cases here fueled by outbreaks abroad. Not counting the Vermont volunteer, there have been 17 measles cases reported in Massachusetts. No new cases have been reported in the state since the exposure at the aquarium.
Barry said she expects the cases in the state to continue at a higher-than-normal pace. Measles is highly contagious, much more so than the flu. When one person in a household has influenza, it is expected that at least 20 percent of people there will catch it. With measles, that figure is about 90 percent, Barry said.
Hospital leaders are keenly aware of vaccination rates among employees and volunteers because of the potential to infect vulnerable people. But officials at most other public venues, such as theaters or tourist attractions, pay little attention to them, Barry said.
"I think it’s something they may want to start thinking about," she said.
Luckily, there was one group at the aquarium that did not need screening. LaCasse said he made a call Friday night to the head veterinarian, who said there was no risk to the animals.
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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