Public health alert issued to bus passengers and restaurant-goers after measles death

The HSE has warned thousands of people to be alert for symptoms for 21 days from the time of possible exposure


A public health alert has been issued following the death of a man earlier this week from measles.

Thousands of people who took buses or were in restaurants used by the 48-year-old man have been warned to be alert for symptoms for 21 days from the time of possible exposure.

The alert applies to anyone who travelled on the 115 Bus Éireann route between Dublin and Mullingar between Tuesday, January 30th, and Monday, February 5th.

The Health Service Executive is also advising anyone who was at a restaurant in Mullingar Business Park between 2pm and 4.30pm on Monday, January 29th, that they may have been exposed to measles.


It says anyone affected should be aware of the signs and symptoms of measles and ensure they and their family are vaccinated. If they have not received two doses of the MMR vaccine, they should contact their GP as soon as possible.

The Co Westmeath man died in Mullingar hospital after contracting measles following a trip to the UK. Hospital staff who treated the man after he presented at the hospital as well as people who travelled on the same bus he took and a restaurant he ate in are the focus of a contact-tracing operation by public health doctors.

The man had spent time in Birmingham, where a large outbreak of measles is ongoing.

Symptoms of measles include cold-like symptoms such as aches and pain, a runny nose, sneezing and a cough; sore red eyes that may be sensitive to light; high temperature; small greyish-white spots in the mouth; and a rash that usually appears on the head and neck before spreading to the rest of the body.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has provisionally reported nine cases of suspected measles this year up to last Saturday. Seven of the cases are reported as possible cases of measles and two are probable. The cases were reported in the midlands, Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary.

There were four measles cases reported in 2023, two in 2022, none in 2021 and five in 2020.

No deaths were reported in any of those years. Measles infections have soared in Europe since the beginning of 2023, which saw a thirtyfold increase in cases over the previous year. In England, 170 cases of measles were notified in an outbreak in the west midlands since last December.

MMR vaccine uptake in Ireland is currently below the World Health Organisation recommended target uptake of 95 per cent. Nationally, uptake has been below 90 per cent for seven consecutive quarters.

Last month, measles was put on the list of infectious diseases requiring immediate preliminary notification by telephone to a public health doctor. GPs and other doctors have been told to have a high index of suspicion about people who are not fully vaccinated or who have travelled abroad.

There is no treatment for measles, and vaccination needs to be administered within 72 hours in order to be effective.

The Health Service Executive is examining a proposal for an MMR catch-up programme in Leaving Cert students to target unvaccinated teenagers, and is also looking at a similar campaign in colleges and higher educational institutions aimed at those in their late-teens and in their 20s.

Meanwhile, delays for patients waiting for appointments and procedures worsened in January, as hospitals cancelled elective work due to overcrowding.

Almost 53,000 patients were waiting longer than 12 weeks for inpatient or daycase treatment at the end of January, up 5 per cent on the previous month.

There were almost 410,00 people waiting longer for an outpatient appointment, up 3 per cent, and 10,000 waiting for over 12 weeks for a gastrointestinal scope, up 15 per cent.

The 10- and 12-week targets are set down in the Sláintecare plan for the reform of the health service.

“The month of January is traditionally one when limited elective care is delivered due to the surge in demand for unscheduled care post-Christmas and because of high levels of respiratory illness circulating,” the Department of Health said. “Accordingly, we would expect to see waiting lists for elective care trend upwards at this time.”

Since the peak of the pandemic, the number of patients waiting longer than target times has fallen by about 25 per cent, it said. The fall over the past year is 8 per cent.

The total waiting list – outpatient, inpatient and GI scope combined – has fallen 3 per cent in the past year, it highlighted, largely due to a drop in the outpatient list.

Overall at the end of January, 86,288 patients were waiting for an appointment for inpatient or day case treatment, 24,268 for a GI scope and 568,691 for a first hospital outpatient consultation, according to the latest figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times