Measles cases jumped by 400% in Europe in 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
According to figures from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2016 saw a record low of 5,273 cases of the disease, however last year, this jumped by 400% to 21,315 cases, including 35 deaths.
"Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated. Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept," commented Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
The WHO revealed that 15 countries in the European region experienced large outbreaks last year - that is 100 or more cases. The worst affected country was Romania, with 5,562 cases. Other countries with large outbreaks included Italy (5,006), Germany (927), France (520) and the UK (282).
Dr Jakab insisted that the elimination of both measles and rubella ‘is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to'.
Actions to stop current outbreaks and prevent new ones from taking place include raising public awareness, addressing challenges in access, and improving supply planning and logistics, the WHO added.
In Ireland, the latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show that in the first six weeks of this year, there have been 28 reported cases of measles. During the same period in 2017, there was just one reported case.
An ongoing outbreak in the Limerick area is currently being investigated by the Measles Outbreak Control Team.
In response to this, there will be a free MMR clinic on February 21 from 12-3pm at Barrack View Primary Care Centre, Edward Street, Limerick. The HSE is calling on those living in the Carew Park and Ballinacurra Weston areas of Limerick city to attend.
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a viral infection. It causes cold-like symptoms and a rash, but can also lead to more serious complications, such as breathing difficulties, pneumonia and acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
The measles rash is made up of red or brown blotches. It usually starts on the forehead and moves downward over the face, neck and body. Other symptoms of measles can include a high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes.
The best way to protect yourself from measles is to get the MMR vaccine. This is given twice - at 12 months of age and again at four-to-five years - as part of the routine immunisation programme.
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