Measles vaccine a must before holidays, warns WHO

By Dan Buckley

Holidaymakers should be vaccinated against measles, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, as European cases of the infectious disease reach an eight-year high.

The WHO has warned that the 41,000 cases of measles in the first half of 2018 have already outstripped every annual total since 2010.

In Ireland, there has been a total of 76 cases so far this year, five of them in recent days, according to the HSE. Four of the most recent cases have occurred in Dublin.

“These four individuals are likely to have developed measles from contact with one of the two earlier cases at hospitals in Dublin,” said the HSE.

Helena Murray, a specialist in public health medicine, said: “Measles can be a serious illness and is highly infectious. The best protection is to be fully vaccinated with two doses of MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccine”.

People at increased risk of getting measles are those who are not fully vaccinated with two doses of MMR vaccine or have not had measles in the past. The risk of measles is for up to 21 days, after contact with a case of measles.

The HSE says it is particularly concerned about the risk of measles for children who attended Temple St Children’s University Hospital, in Dublin, on four dates between July 25 and August 6 and who may have been exposed to an infectious case of measles.

“Measles cases are also occurring in children and adults who are in contact with measles cases in the community in Dublin,” said a HSE spokesperson.

Across Europe, there were 41,000 measles cases during the first six months of 2018, including 37 deaths.

The WHO said the highest annual total for measles cases since 2010 was in 2017, when 23,927 cases were identified.

The global health body said France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine have had more than 1,000 cases each so far in 2018. Ukraine has been the hardest-hit, with more than 23,000 people affected, said the WHO.

In the European region, 41,000 children and adults have been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018.

The total number for this period far exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every year this decade. So far, the highest annual total for measles cases between 2010 and 2017 was 23,927, for 2017, and the lowest was 5,273, for 2016. Monthly country reports also indicate at least 37 people have died due to measles, so far this year.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases, in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe. “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease.

“Good health for all starts with immunisation and as long as this disease is not eliminated, we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments.”

Seven countries in the region have seen over 1,000 cases, in children and adults this year (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine).

Ukraine’s 23,000 affected people account for over the half the regional total. Measles-related deaths have been reported in all of these countries, with Serbia reporting the highest number, at 14.

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