Advice for Managers on Employees with Chicken Pox or Shingles

Chickenpox is an acute, highly contagious disease which infects up to 90% of people who come into contact with the virus, and more commonly affects children.  The virus can lie dormant in the body for several years but may reappear following reactivation of the virus as shingles, a disease that occurs more often in adults. It is not known what causes the virus to reactivate.

The severity of infection varies and it is possible to be infected but show no symptoms.

How does chickenpox/shingles affect staff?

Chickenpox is transmitted through direct person-to-person contact and airborne droplet infection (e.g. coughing and sneezing). The incubation period is about 10 to 21 days, however the  most infectious period is from one to two days before the rash appears but a person will continue to be infectious until all the lesions have crusted over (commonly about five to six days after the onset of the illness).

Chickenpox in healthy children is usually a mild illness with no complications; however adults, pregnant women and those whose immune systems are compromised due to illness or treatments (e.g. chemotherapy or high-dose steroids) may experience more serious complications.

The only way to get shingles is if you have had chickenpox at some time yourself. You cannot ‘catch’ shingles from another person.

You can develop chickenpox as a result of exposure to a person with shingles, but only through direct skin contact with that person’s oozing blisters. When the blisters are dry and crusted over they are no longer infectious.

Staff with shingles should be able to continue to work in most areas if they feel well and the affected area can be adequately covered by clothing. However it should be noted that shingles can vary from very mild with no pain or discomfort to extremely painful and debilitating, and staff may need to take time off to recover.

What are employers’ responsibilities?

What employers are expected to do should an employee be diagnosed with chickenpox depends largely on the type of workplace.

In a purely adult, non-care setting, it may be useful for other team members who have had contact with the infected employee to be made aware. The majority of people who have had the disease remain immune for life. Colleagues who do not think that they have previously had chickenpox should be informed that they may develop the disease within 10 to 21 days. If they start to feel unwell within this time period it may be sensible to take time off as soon as symptoms begin (e.g. cold-like symptoms, high temperature) in order to reduce the risk of the disease spreading further.

Employees suffering from shingles can work if they feel well enough so long as the rash area is well covered and others cannot come into contact with oozing blisters.

Pregnant employees who have a definite history of chickenpox or shingles, or have received two doses of vaccine prior to pregnancy but have come into contact with either of these illnesses during pregnancy, can be offered reassurance that they are not at risk of transmission. However, pregnant employees who have an uncertain or unknown history of chickenpox and have not been vaccinated should inform their midwife/GP or obstetrician urgently.

For further advice contact us at:
E-mail: support@occupationalhealthltd.co.uk
Telephone: 023 8047 5000

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