Parents urged to get children vaccinated following spike in measles cases
A SPIKE in the number of measles outbreaks across Europe has sparked warnings about the importance of getting young children vaccinated in Northern Ireland.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging parents to be vigilant about travelling to countries including France, Italy, Greece and Romania where the the risk for unvaccinated children contracting the disease is "high".
Concerns have also been raised about "imported" cases from the Republic - there were 86 reported last year compared to 25 the previous year.
Measles is a highly contagious disease and can be fatal or cause brain damage.
There were more than 82,500 cases and 37 deaths reported in Europe in 2018 - the highest number in a decade.
The growth in "anti-vaxx" material on social media is thought to be a major contributory factor to a drop in the jab uptake rates in some countries - particularly in England where the proportion of children receiving both doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination by their fifth birthday has fallen over the last four years to 87.2 per cent.
Uptake rates in the north however are the highest in the UK, at 91.7 per cent at the end of last year. This was a 1.1 per cent drop on the previous year.
The last declared 'outbreak' in the north was two years ago, when six cases were reported to health authorities.
Rates dipped across the NHS in the 1990s following publication of a report linking MMR to autism, but partly recovered after that research was discredited.
The PHA has now launched a social media video to raise awareness about the jab, which was first introduced 50 years ago and is estimated to have prevented 4,500 deaths.
Dr Jenny Mack of the PHA said measles was one of the most infectious viral diseases known.
"Unfortunately, people can die from measles. The video aims to highlight the signs and symptoms and inform that the safest and most effective way to prevent measles is to ensure you are fully vaccinated with the MMR vaccine," she said.
"Thanks to the high proportion of people in Northern Ireland making the positive decision to get the MMR vaccine over the past decades, cases of measles, mumps and rubella illnesses here have fallen significantly. However, these diseases have not gone away and some countries are experiencing outbreaks of measles.
"Until measles is eliminated globally we will continue to see imported cases of measles across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Ensuring your children have had two doses of MMR vaccine will give them the best protection here and when travelling abroad."
Children should receive one dose of MMR from their GP just after their first birthday and a second dose at three years and four months of age. The jabs are free.