Measles in Ireland: HSE hopes catch-up vaccination will minimise risk of large outbreak

NI health authorities warn of inevitable rise in case due to ‘alarming rise’ of outbreaks in Europe and UK


The HSE is seeking to curtail any risk of a large outbreak of measles in Ireland by maximising availability of vaccines and awareness of protocols for those who suspect they or their children may have the disease.

With one confirmed case, that resulted in the death of a 48-year-old man last week, it is understood that disease modelling at this point is unclear on whether Ireland is facing a large outbreak – the World Health Organisation has confirmed that there has been a 45-fold increase in measles cases in Europe this winter.

Health officials in the North, meanwhile, have put parents on alert after warning that cases are “likely” in Northern Ireland amid an “alarming rise” in infections across Europe including the UK – and declining vaccination rates.

The NI Department of Health said on Thursday “it is only a matter of time” before cases are detected there.


A catch-up vaccination programme is being deployed by regional departments of public health in the Republic under the overall direction of the National Immunisation Office.

This follows three possible cases of measles reported this week by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). The confirmed case prompted a public health alert.

“There is a heightened awareness of measles among clinicians in Ireland due to the notification of the first case in Ireland in 2024 and measles outbreaks in England and Europe,” the HSE said in a statement.

A measles incident management team was established in response to the outbreaks and is chaired by Dr Lucy Jessop, director of the National Immunisation Office,

HPSC director Dr Greg Martin said that if people feel they may be at risk with symptoms consistent with measles, they should phone their GP who will make arrangements for them to be seen in safe circumstances – rather than going directly to a surgery.

A catch-up vaccination programme is aimed at those who have not been vaccinated or did not complete the two MMR injection programme which is administered when aged about 12 months and at four to five years, he said.

As part of routine public health measures, a public health team investigates incidences of possible measles and it is not unusual to have several possible cases notified each week, the HSE said. Possible cases subsequently can be de-notified or may be confirmed by laboratory testing.

Measles vaccination is being offered to children over six and adults who have not been fully vaccinated before, while there are also protocols for those turning up in hospital emergency departments, who suspect they may have the disease – because it is so infectious.


Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nose or throat secretions.

Symptoms include cold-like symptoms; 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.

In Ireland, there were four confirmed measles cases reported in 2023, two confirmed cases in 2022, no confirmed cases in 2021 and five confirmed cases in 2020. There were no deaths reported in any of those years. The HPSC has provisionally reported nine cases of suspected measles this year up to last Saturday.

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

Deputy chief medical officer Prof Lourda Geoghegan said: “While there have been no confirmed cases of measles in Northern Ireland since 2017, it is only a matter of time before the illness is reported here.”

She added: “It is important that everyone is aware that the most effective way to prevent measles is by maintaining a high uptake of two doses of the MMR vaccine ... measles can cause children to become very sick and some who contract measles will suffer life-changing complications.”

The Co Westmeath man died in Mullingar hospital after contracting measles following a trip to the UK. Hospital staff who treated him 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.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times