Parents urged to ensure children are vaccinated before travel as Europe sees increase in measles cases


The HSE National Immunisation Office today (Wednesday) urged parents to make sure that their children are fully vaccinated against measles following a large pan national outbreak of the disease in Europe.

Since the start of 2011 there have been more than 21,000 cases of measles in Europe. More than half of the reported cases occurred in France where six deaths, 14 neurological complications and 444 cases with severe pneumonia have been reported, according to the head of the HSE National Immunisation Office, Dr Brenda Corcoran.

"One death occurred in Germany and large outbreaks are also being reported from Romania, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, UK and Italy.

"Many cases are due to travel of infected people between countries. As there is more travel between Europe and Ireland over the summer, there is an increased risk to Irish children and teenagers who are not fully vaccinated against measles.

"There have been significant outbreaks in France, Spain and Belgium, which are popular holiday destinations for Irish families and with college students on holiday, working, visiting relatives and friends or attending summer camps or other summer activities. Additionally, the World Youth Day in Madrid will bring a large gathering of youth from all over the Europe together.

"Vaccination with MMR vaccine is the only way to protect against measles. In Ireland, the first MMR dose is given at 12 months of age, and the second dose at 4-5 years of age. Parents must make sure that their children and teenagers are protected against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with MMR before they visit Europe. Measles is a highly infectious and dangerous illness which spreads very easily, particularly in homes, crèches, playgroups, camps, schools and universities.

"Parents should speak with their GP and get the vaccine for their child if needed. The vaccine is free.

"At the moment, only 90% of children in Ireland have received one dose of MMR by 24 months of age, which is below the target of 95% to prevent cases of measles and measles outbreaks.

"So far, 110 cases of measles have been reported in Ireland since January 2011. Seventy nine percent, or 87 cases of measles, have occurred in residents in the HSE East and 14 cases were under 12 months of age and were too young to have been vaccinated. Nearly 50% of cases occurred in individuals who were eligible for vaccination but had not received any dose of MMR vaccine while 22 cases received one dose of MMR. Two doses of MMR will protect 99% of those receiving the vaccine. Twelve individuals with measles have been hospitalised for between 2 and 14 days.

"At least eight of our measles cases were infected while travelling overseas in Europe, transmission from these cases then occurred in Ireland," added Dr Corcoran.

Further information on measles is available here.