Monday 11 December 2017

Children at risk of getting measles while on holiday following outbreaks in Europe

Gaps in vaccination coverage are blamed for rise in cases

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
The EU’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Parents who are taking their children abroad for summer holidays are being advised to get them vaccinated against measles.

A number of countries are reporting large measles outbreaks, including the UK and Italy. Although no confirmed cases have been notified in Ireland this year, it is possible to get measles if someone brings back the viral illness from overseas.

In 2016, three different cases of measles in holidaymakers from Ireland abroad occurred when people who were exposed in other European countries brought the virus into the country unknowingly.

None of them had been vaccinated and as a result of these three people, some 43 others were infected in a plane, hospital or at home.

Public health experts said the best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. Parents are urged not to delay getting the MMR for their child when it is due - at 12 months, with a second dose at preschool age when they are 4-5 years old.

Children aged 6-11 months of age, travelling to other countries and regions where measles outbreaks are reported, should also get the MMR vaccine, said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Gaps in vaccination coverage against measles have been blamed for the outbreaks of the disease.

The EU’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis. Photo: Tom Burke
The EU’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis. Photo: Tom Burke

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported that in the first two months of the year, more than 1,500 measles cases were recorded in 14 European countries.

This was due to "an accumulation of unvaccinated individuals."

It said that in 10 countries - Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden - the number of cases reported in January-February 2017 was more than double that of the first two months of 2016.

The EU's health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, warned: "It is unacceptable to hear that children and adults are dying from disease where safe and cost-effective vaccines are available."

The ECDC expressed particular concern about the outbreaks in older age groups along with children. It revealed that one in three cases of measles in Europe in 2015 and 2016 was in adults over 20 years of age.

It added: "Closing immunisation gaps in adolescents and adults who have not received vaccination in the past, as well as strengthening routine childhood immunisation programmes, will be vital to prevent future outbreaks."

Cases of measles in Ireland have become increasingly rare over the years as vaccination levels rose.

The European disease watchdog said that measles continues to spread across Europe because the vaccination coverage in many countries is suboptimal.

The latest available figures show that the vaccination coverage for the second dose of measles was below 95pc in 15 of 23 European countries .

The vaccination coverage of the second MMR must be at least 95pc if the circulation of the virus is to be stopped, the watchdog warned.

Irish Independent

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