The HSE is urging parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against measles following a large pan national outbreak of the disease in Europe.
Since the start of this year there have been more than 21,000 cases of the condition in Europe. More than half 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’s 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.”
She says there have been significant outbreaks of the condition in France, Spain and Belgium - which are popular holiday destinations for Irish families and college students on holiday, working, visiting relatives and friends or attending summer camps or other summer activities.
Vaccination with the MMR vaccine is the only way to protect against measles, she says.
“In Ireland, the first MMR dose is given at 12 months of age and the second at four to five 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.”
Currently only 90 per cent of children in Ireland have received one dose of MMR by 24 months of age which is below the target of 95 per cent to prevent cases of measles and measles outbreaks.
“So far, 110 cases of measles have been reported in Ireland since January 2011. Seventy nine per cent or 87 cases 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 per cent 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 per cent of those receiving the vaccine. Twelve individuals with measles have been hospitalised for between two 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.