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    February 2015

    Responding to the Measles Outbreak

    giving patient a shot

    The measles outbreak in January infected at least 102 people in 14 states, including students at several colleges. Last year, the U.S. documented three times the number of measles cases in any year since 2000.

    Measles is a contagious airborne virus whose symptoms include fever, cough, white spots on the inside of the mouth, and a rash. The virus can live for up to two hours after it is expelled into the air. According to the CDC, 90 percent of the nonimmune people close to an infected person will contract measles. The close living conditions on many college campuses and the rising number of cases compel educational institutions to plan for a possible measles outbreak.


    Maintaining high vaccination coverage is the best protection against disease—including measles. Most campuses require students to receive MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccinations prior to matriculation. Work with your campus health advisors and legal counsel to create or update your immunization policy. Policies at Columbia University and the University of Arizona, for example, require all incoming students to show proof of vaccinations.

    Crisis Planning

    A measles outbreak on your campus may require you to implement your crisis response plan. Review, update, and test the plan now to make sure you’re prepared. The plan should:

    • Name a response team with personnel from health services, housing, security, communications, food services, academic affairs, and legal counsel
    • Define team member roles and responsibilities for preparedness, response, and recovery
    • Establish clear lines of authority within and between departments
    • Identify backup personnel, including external resources with specific expertise such as public relations firms and legal counsel
    • Incorporate a flexible sick leave policy for faculty, staff, and students
    • Establish guidelines for determining when closing programs or the campus is appropriate
    • Establish how to maintain essential operations if programs shut down

    To prepare for managing a crisis, take United Educators’ Crisis Response Learning Program and practice your response through the flu outbreak simulation.

    Crisis Communications

    If someone on your campus has measles, good communication is critical to managing the outbreak. Institutions should consider the following actions:

    • Tell students, faculty, and staff about the current case, the disease, and prevention steps. For example, California State University, Long Beach released a letter to the campus community when a student contracted measles.
    • Instruct adults who do not know whether they have received the vaccine to get vaccinated. There is no harm in getting another MMR vaccine if a person has already been vaccinated, according to the CDC. However, pregnant women and people with leukemia cannot receive the vaccination.
    • Prepare a news release to use in case of an outbreak. Use it to alert external stakeholders and the media if an outbreak occurs. Releases must comply with HIPAA and should exclude personally identifiable information about patients or their treatment. For guidance in composing a release, review examples from California State University Channel Islands and Bard College.


    Preparing for Flu and Other Pandemics
    A Guide to Creating and Improving a Campus Crisis Communications Plan
    Crisis Response Learning Program
    CDC: Measles Cases and Outbreaks
    CDC: Health Advisory – U.S. Multi-state Measles Outbreak

    By Melanie Bennett, JD, assistant risk analyst


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