HSE issues warning in bid to curb measles outbreak

Parents have been advised to withdraw unvaccinated children from a West Cork school following a major outbreak of the highly contagious measles disease.

The HSE South has confirmed 25 cases of measles have been reported in its region in the last four weeks. There were none in the first three months of the year.

The outbreak is predominantly affecting teenagers who are not vaccinated. Most of the cases reported, at least 14, were among students attending Schull Community College.

“We have evidence of spread of the infection within the school,” the HSE told parents.

Parents of children attending the school have been notified, with particular concern being expressed for students in exam classes. The Junior and Leaving Certificate exams are due to start in four weeks.

Parents have been advised to withdraw unvaccinated children from the school, to keep them at home, and not let them mix with others in the school or other social settings while the outbreak is ongoing, or for 21 days after getting the MMR.

Dr Fiona Ryan, a specialist in public health medicine in the HSE South, warned measles could be a serious and potentially fatal illness.

“This outbreak is affecting children who are not vaccinated,” she said.

“Siblings of children with measles, if not vaccinated, are also recommended to stay out of school or childcare during the incubation period [usually around 14 days but may be up to 21 days], to ensure that they do not transmit infection to other children who may be too young for vaccination or be at increased risk due to other conditions.”

Measles is a serious viral infection that causes fever, cough, rash, and sore eyes. It is highly infectious and can cause serious complications.

One in 20 who contract it will get pneumonia, one in a 1,000 will get encephalitis, and between one and two people in a 1,000 will die.

Dr Ryan said you either need to have received the MMR vaccine or have had the disease in order to be protected.

Two doses of MMR are recommended — the first at 12 months of age, which is given by a GP, and the second at four or five years of age, which is usually given in schools by the HSE schools immunisation team.

Parents were urged last night to check their child’s immunisation records to see if they have received two doses of MMR.

If no records are available the child should be brought to the GP for the free vaccination.

If given to a child within 72 hours of exposure to measles, it may prevent the disease.

* www.immunisation.ie and www.hpsc.ie


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