The HSE West has reiterated its appeal to parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against measles in the wake of an outbreak of the condition in Co Galway towards the end of last year.
Some 22 cases of the infection - which is most common in children aged one to four years who have not been immunised - were reported in people ranging from babies to 21-year-olds by the end of 2009.
A spokesperson for the health authority said a “small number” of cases were notified over the holiday period.
“We will have a clearer idea by the end of the week. We would continue to urge parents to get their children vaccinated. 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. 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.
The most important part of controlling an outbreak of measles is to ensure there is a high level of immunity in the population, explains Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, the HSE West’s director of public health.
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 occurred in the east of the country - three children died. In 2007 55 cases were notified to health authorities.