Parents urged to get children vaccinated as measles cases surge

The HSE West is urging parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against measles in the wake of an outbreak of the condition in Co Galway.

Some 22 cases have been reported in ages ranging from babies to 21-year-olds since the end of October.

Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, the HSE West’s director of public health, says it is advising parents whose children have not been immunised to get them vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent the spread of the disease.

“The most important part of controlling an outbreak of measles is to ensure that there is a high level of immunity in the population. Measles can be prevented by immunisation with a highly effective vaccine that is part of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella ) immunisation.

“This vaccine is given free by the GP to babies between 12 and 15 months and a second dose is now given when children begin school (age four to five years ). MMR vaccination is also recommended for children aged 11 to 12 years. This can be omitted, however, if two previous doses of MMR have been given.”

One dose of MMR gives 90 per cent protection against measles and the second dose gives 98 per cent protection. The uptake of the first dose of MMR vaccine among children in Ireland is measured at 24 months and the most recent national figures show that 90 per cent of children aged 24 months have received the vaccine. The uptake of the MMR vaccine at 24 months in the HSE West region is currently at 90 per cent.

One case of measles can infect 15 to 20 unvaccinated people. A vaccine uptake rate of at least 95 per cent with two doses is required in order to give “herd immunity”. This greatly reduces the risk of exposure to infection for any unvaccinated individuals (eg, babies under 12 months of age ) and for people who are immunosuppressed.

Measles is an infection caused by the measles virus. It is usually a childhood condition and is most common in children aged between one and four years who have not been immunised. However, you can catch measles at any age. It is caught by direct contact with an infected person or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Measles is usually a mild illness but it can cause serious complications including pneumonia, diarrhoea, seizures, brain damage and death. The infection is not common in Ireland because of immunisation. In the outbreak affecting more than 1,600 children in Ireland in 2000 most cases occured in the east of the country - three children died. In 2007 55 cases were notified to health authorities.

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