HSE confirms 15 cases of measles this year with 35 probable cases under investigation

Measles cases up by 400% in Europe

A leading doctor has said the rising incidence of measles in Ireland could be due to a previous shortfall in vaccinations that has caught up on the population.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (Who) said cases of the disease in Europe increased by 400 per cent last year.

According to the HSE, as of today there have been 15 confirmed cases of measles so far this year and 35 probable cases under investigation.

Last year, there were 23 confirmed cases while in 2016, there were 43 confrimed cases.


“The main reason why you might see an increase in cases would be due the fall off in immunisation levels and we never got back to the full level that we need, the high percentage uptake for there to be high immunity,” said Dr Padraig McGarry, chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee.

“Unfortunately, it has been difficult to get the message across to parents that MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) is safe.”

In 1998, the since disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published fraudulent research in The Lancet which claimed a link between MMR and autism, causing a major fall in the uptake of the vaccine.

Dr McGarry stressed the need to get the message across and said similar campaigns to the successful HPV vaccine recently, should be considered for other immunisation pushes.

"A lot of people have forgotten the dangers of measles and look at it as even a benign condition," he said, adding that the outbreak of cases in Limerick could be due to close proximity or possibly to a pocket in which vaccination levels fell short at some stage.

Immunisation helps establish herd immunity against the infectious disease. Had MMR vaccination levels exceeded 95 per cent of the target population, measles may well have been eradicated by now.

In Europe last year, the disease affected 21,315 people and caused 35 deaths, following a record low of 5,273 cases in 2016.

Today, health ministers from 11 countries will meet to discuss progress with the European Vaccine Action Plan, which includes the aspired elimination of measles and rubella.

Measles is a leading cause of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.

A highly contagious disease, it usually results in a fever and rash, and can cause blindness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and death.

While Europe has seen a sudden increase in cases, there were 89,780 measles deaths globally in 2016, an annual rate that fell below 100,000 for the first time.

Vaccination has led to a huge decline in fatalities. In 2016, about 85 per cent of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday, up from 72 per cent in 2000.

"Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated," said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.

The surge in cases last year included large outbreaks of 100 or more cases in 15 of the 53 countries in Europe.

The highest numbers of affected people were reported in Romania (5,562), Italy (5,006) and Ukraine (4,767).

Ireland did not rank among other countries with the highest level of cases. These included Greece (967), Germany (927), Serbia (702), Tajikistan (649), France (520), the Russian Federation (408), Belgium (369), the United Kingdom (282), Bulgaria (167), Spain (152), Czechia (146) and Switzerland (105).

Ongoing measures being taken to stop the current outbreaks and prevent new ones include raising public awareness, immunizing health-care professionals and other adults at particular risk, addressing challenges in access, and improving supply planning and logistics.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times