HPSC urges parents to get their children vaccinated following measles outbreak


The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre today (Thursday) urged parents to make sure that their children are protected against measles following an outbreak of the disease in three HSE regions.

Measles can be a serious and potentially fatal illness and children who have not been vaccinated are particularly at risk of measles during this time, says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Suzanne Cotter. 
"The outbreak in the HSE South, HSE Southeast and the HSE West, is predominantly affecting young children and teenagers from the Traveller Community. Since January, 63 cases of measles have been notified nationally, 12 of whom were hospitalised. This compares with a total of 55 for all of 2008.

"The majority of notified cases have been in the 1-4 year age group, but cases have also been reported in children less than one year of age and teenagers. The oldest case reported was 33 years of age. No deaths have occurred and none of the confirmed cases were vaccinated.

"This is the second outbreak affecting travellers in 2009, following a family outbreak earlier this year, which was linked to the ongoing measles outbreak in the UK.

"Measles is a highly infectious disease, 1 in 20 will get pneumonia, 1 in a 1000 will get encephalitis, 1-2 in a 1000 will die. To be protected you either need to have received the MMR vaccine or to have had the disease. There is no other way to prevent measles infection.

"Two doses of MMR are recommended, the first at 12 months of age, which is given by a GP, and the second at 4-5 years of age, which is usually given in schools. It is particularly worrying in this outbreak is that many of the parents of the children affected were not aware that their children were not vaccinated and therefore not protected.

"Parents need to check their child's immunisation records and see if their child received two doses of MMR. If no records are available then the child should be brought to the GP for vaccination. GPs are encouraged to provide all parents with hand held immunisation records so that parents can keep track of vaccines received. MMR given to a child within 72 hours of exposure to measles may prevent measles," she said.


Note for editors:

One dose of MMR is considered to be approximately 95% effective in preventing measles, while two doses are considered to be 99% effective.

The current MMR uptake in children at 24 months is 90%, with regional rates varying from 76%-98%.

Any area or community with low MMR coverage is at particular risk of measles outbreaks in the community.

Although there are no MMR uptake figures for the traveller community, anecdotal reports suggest that children in some families may have lower uptake than children in the settled community. This may be related to increased mobility, uncertainly about vaccines received and lack of readily accessible immunisation records (including hand held records).

The last large measles outbreak occurred in 2000 when over 1600 cases were reported and there were three measles associated deaths.