Measles outbreak in Ireland reaches 76 as Europe sees surge in cases

Record levels of infection blamed by health experts on drop off in vaccinations

Cases of measles in Europe have reached a record high according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with Ireland seeing a massive increase in diagnoses since last year

So far this year, 76 cases of measles have been detected, according to the latest available statistics from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). This compares to just one confirmed case during the same period last year.

During the entirety of 2017 there were 25 cases, with most cases coming near the end of the year as part of the current outbreak.

The figures show Ireland is not escaping the lethal outbreak which is spreading across continental Europe. More than 41,000 people have been infected in the first six months of 2018, leading to 37 deaths.


Last year there were 23,927 cases and the year before 5,273. WHO Experts blame this surge in infections on a drop in the number of people being vaccinated.

The HSE said there has been no confirmed deaths in Ireland this year as a result of the outbreak.

The measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has been shown to be highly effective in preventing the spread of measles. However, now discredited research published 20 years ago which falsely linked it to autism has led to a loss of confidence in the vaccine among some people.

Most people who contract the disease recover within 10 days from the appearance of the first symptoms but in certain cases it can give rise to other more serious conditions including meningitis, hepatitis and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

"We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunization, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments," said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.

At least 95 per cent of the population must be fully immunised against measles to prevent outbreaks, the WHO said.

“We can stop this deadly disease. But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations - and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives,” Dr Jakab said.

Asked for comment on the outbreak, a HSE spokeswoman said: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. You’ve got to vaccinate your kids.”

Children should be first vaccinated at 12 months of age. Children travelling to other countries with measles outbreaks should be vaccinated sooner as well as receiving the dose at 12 months.

“Older children should be age appropriately vaccinated. Children who have missed their recommended doses should get the MMR vaccine from their GP,” the HSE said.

Adults may also be at risk of measles, “particularly those under 40 years of age who have never had measles or two doses of a measles vaccine.”

According to the data for Ireland the vast majority of measles cases are confined to Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. In the most recent week for which figures are available 11 out of 12 cases occurred in these counties.

Five of the 12 cases occurred in children under the age of four. Nine of the 12 were male and three were female.

Last month the HSE urged people to be vigilant about measles after two infectious people visited four different hospitals in the Dublin area. The infected people, a parent and child from the same family, are understood to have recently returned from mainland Europe.

Measles: what it looks like and what to do if you catch it

Vaccination is the most effective way of stopping the spread of measles according to the WHO and the HSE. Children should receive the MMR vaccine at 12 months. Older children who missed it should get it as soon as possible from their GP.

Children travelling to countries with measles outbreaks should get their first vaccine earlier - at between six and 11 months. The worst affected countries in Europe this year are Romania, France, Greece, and Italy.

All children should get a second dose of the MMR at four to five years old. Again if this is missed they should get it as soon as possible from their GP. Adults who missed the vaccine should also consult their GP.

Measles symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a red or brown rash which starts on the head and spreads down. Sufferers may also experience vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain.

The HSE advises those who think they have the disease to stay home from school or work and to phone their GP. Visitors should be told not to come to the home.

Pregnant women who have been exposed to measles should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

The HSE warns measles is a high contagious disease. It usually takes about 14 days for symptoms to appear after contracting the disease in the form of a rash but it can take as long as 21 days. People are infectious from four days before rash starts until four days after.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times