Irish kids spread measles on plane

By Eimear Vize

Two American toddlers developed measles after being exposed to the disease by three Irish children, who were infectious with measles, during a transatlantic flight, it has emerged.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has confirmed that in January of this year, during a period of high measles activity in Ireland, three Irish siblings, all of whom were unvaccinated with MMR, travelled to, and returned from, the USA while sick with measles.

The HPSC said it considered this incident “a significant public health threat” to non-immune fellow passengers on both flights.

Once alerted to the threat, a contact tracing exercise of all 321 passengers in Europe and the USA was undertaken. Public health doctors in the US identified two young, unvaccinated children, aged 12 and 24 months, diagnosed with measles who were seated several rows from the Irish children on the flight from Ireland.

Further investigation by the HSPC revealed that a sibling of these Irish children had been diagnosed with measles by a GP eight days prior to this event.

“The fact that these children travelled while infectious could have been avoided if the index case had been notified to public health by the diagnosing GP. As a result of this omission, opportunities to provide MMR to the children, and to provide advice to the parents on the need to be alert to disease and to avoid exposing others to the disease could not be made,” the HPSC said.

This latest incident follows recent reports of a cluster of measles cases in Slovenia, triggered by a visiting, unvaccinated Irish teenager, who was infectious with the disease. Slovenia had been ten years measles-free prior to this small outbreak.

Serious complications of measles can include severe cough and breathing difficulties; ear infections; lung infections (pneumonia); eye infections and inflammation of the brain (acute encephalitis) - which can lead to brain damage.

Ireland was shown to have the second-highest incidence rate of measles in Europe in the first quarter of this year, according to new figures published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The highest incidence was in Bulgaria, where 11 children died from measles in the first three months of 2010.

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