Workplace Vaccinations in the UK

Occupational immunisations are an important safety concerns where staff are likely to be exposed to particular diseases. Exposure is key to immunity, and when the body comes across a new disease causing agent chances are that an infection can take place. Where potentially harmful diseases are involved, like tuberculosis for example, it is extremely important to immunise employees and prevent an outbreak that spread amongst staff.

In this article we look at the main vaccinations employed by employers in the UK. These are given because of the likelihood of transmission in certain workplaces. The type of occupations to which this applies include administrative or support staff handling certain biological samples, hygienists, dentists, cleaning staff, nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, dentists and many others.

Occupational Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is also known as Hep B, and is caused by a virus of the same name. The virus damages the liver causing severe inflammation. The disease is a particular concern amongst health and social care workers who come into contact with patients suffering from the disease.

The virus is largely transmitted via contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. This is why the disease is largely found amongst people who share needles or participate in frequent sexual activities with multiple partners. Hep B causes very severe liver damage which can, over time, cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or cancer.

Hep B vaccination is usually a requirement for anyone looking to get involved in patient care, and is an important preventative measure that limits the viruses transmission. There are in fact several different hep B vaccines in use, and talking to your GP is usually the best way to go about arranging the vaccination.  Typically an initial course of three separate doses in 6 months is given before testing for immunity. Sometimes additional doses are achieved to induce enough of an immune response, but once that has been achieved, boosters are offered after 5 years.

Occupational tuberculosis

Vaccination against tuberculosis (TB) is recommended by a number of different authorities including the Department of Health, and again the transmission of this disease is primarily a concern amongst healthcare workers.

TB is a very infectious illness caused by a particular type of bacteria. The disease usually affects the lungs but can infiltrate other parts of the body. Tuberculosis is still a major concern amongst some communities, despite being relatively uncommon in the UK. Because of its rarity the vaccination against tuberculosis, BCG, is typically on offered where an individual is at a particularly high risk of being exposed to the disease.

Occupational measles, mumps, and rubella

Measles, mumps, and rubella are considered together in this context because they are all prevented by a single combination injection: the MMR vaccine. The Department of Health suggests that all health care staff need to be screened for immunity against these three conditions, and where an individual is not immune, they will need to have the MMR vaccine. This is because of recent increases in mumps and measles infections, where in the past the introduction of vaccination had cut incidence down dramatically. All three conditions are extremely contagious, and carry some risk of major complications.

Occupational Varicella

Varicella is more commonly known by the name ‘chickenpox’. It is a common, harmless childhood infection that almost every child in the modern world will encounter at some point. After a few days of discomfort, the condition clears up and a child is left immune to the causative varicella virus.

Unfortunately varicella is a far more serious condition when encountered by an adult. The older you are the more serious the infection can be, and as such health care workers are advised by the Department of Health to be screened for varicella immunity. A history of the disease stands as evidence of immunity, however if a health care worker has not been exposed to the virus, then they will need to be immunised to prevent a potentially dangerous infection.

Occupational Diphtheria, Haemophilus B influenza, polio, pertussis, and tetanus

These diseases are all considered alongside one another because the vaccination against them is a combination 5-in-1 injection called DTaP/IPV/Hib. This is a convenient injection that immunises an individual against all five conditions very effectively and very safely. Children in the UK are given a number of DTaP/IPV/Hib doses within their first year, with booster doses following that. In cases where a healthcare worker has not received an DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine he or she will be expected to have receive the immunisation.

Occupational seasonal flu vaccination

Since the swine flu epidemic of 2009 the consensus has been that health care workers should be provided with a yearly flu vaccination. Because of changes in the structure of the flu vaccine, yearly injections are necessary to achieve steady immunisation.

Health care workers are in constant contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to infection. These at-risk people include pregnant women and the elderly, and they are less able to adequately defend themselves against infection. Seasonal flu jabs are recommended to prevent the transmission of this disease into vulnerable populations, where there is a high risk of complications including pneumonia and bronchitis.

Occupational anthrax and smallpox

Anthrax and smallpox are not major occupational concerns, however in some roles where an individual may be dealing with these diseases immunisation is recommended. These roles are relatively rare and usually involve assessing and dealing with biological terrorism. The Department of Health has more specific guidelines available should they be necessary.

Occupational meningococcal meningitis

Meningitis is a virulent and potentially lethal disease which many healthcare workers can potentially encounter. Any close contact with an individual diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis  needs to be reported to a public health doctor as quickly as possible. The case will be assessed by this doctor whose specialty it is to determine the next step and whether or not immunisation is a good idea.

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