Measles: a preventable outbreak

For every 1,000 children who get measles, one will die

 

In 2010, countries in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European region committed to eliminate measles transmission by 2015. However this goal was never achieved and now WHO Europe has warned measles outbreaks in the region have caused 35 deaths in the past 12 months. The most recent fatality was a six-year-old boy in Italy, where more than 3,300 measles cases and two deaths have occurred since June 2016. Romania, too, has been badly affected, with measles causing 31 deaths.

Two thirds of the region’s 53 countries have interrupted endemic transmission of measles. However, 14 remain endemic, including France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Ukraine. In all of these countries, estimated national immunisation coverage with the second dose of MMR vaccine is less than the 95 per cent threshold required to maintain herd immunity.

Many of the measles cases are the result of transmission within and between EU member states. Extensive travel and the many mass-gathering events that take place during the summer in Europe offer favourable conditions for the spread of the virus. As a consequence, Irish children, teenagers and young adults travelling to Europe must ensure they are immunised.

MMR, the vaccine used to prevent measles, is safe and is available free from family doctors here. However, vaccination rates in the Republic need to increase to at least 95 per cent of children aged 24 months. Low rates reflect a lingering concern about vaccine safety following the 1998 MMR vaccine scare. This is despite the claims of a link between MMR vaccination and autism being comprehensively discredited. More recently, a growing anti-vaccination movement poses a threat to all vaccine-preventable disease.

Of those who contract measles, one in 15 will develop complications such as middle ear infection and one in 1,000 will get encephalitis (brain inflammation). And for every 1,000 children who get measles, one will die. The WHO must work vigorously with authorities in all affected European countries to control the measles outbreak.

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