POTENTIALLY DEADLY VIRUS, BUT PREVENTABLE
Measles is a highly contagious virus that continues to cause disease and death around the world. In developing countries, public health officials are making great efforts to control the spread measles using vaccination programs. But in Europe we’re seeing an unacceptably large increase in measles cases.
For example France (which seems to be the center of the European measles epidemic) has already seen almost 5,000 cases of measles in the first quarter of 2011; France saw 5,090 measles cases for all of 2010. Health officials in Europe warn that the increase in measles cases is due to the fact that not enough people are getting the measles vaccine.
The measles vaccine is usually given together with the vaccines against mumps and rubella as the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. In France, vaccination rates are reportedly down to 60%. It appears that the low vaccination rates in Europe are connected to the unfounded fears that the MMR vaccine causes autism – but there is actually no evidence of any connection between MMR and autism.
In Canada and the U.S. there have also been higher numbers of measles cases than usual. In Canada, the province of Quebec is currently seeing the most measles activity – 36 cases in the first 4 months of 2011, where they normally see 1-2 cases in the whole year. In the U.S., there have been 89 cases of measles in the first four months of 2011, where they normally see 50 cases per year.
Public health officials in North America say that the vast majority of cases are imported from other countries by travellers. These cases are not expected to trigger large outbreaks of measles in Canada and the U.S. because vaccination rates here are closer to 95%. Thanks to a concept known as ‘herd immunity’, if enough individuals in the population are vaccinated against a virus, it tends not to spread widely.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
The most effective protection against measles is to get vaccinated. Specifically, 2 doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine are recommended. If you were born in 1970 or later, talk to your family doctor about your vaccination status. You may need to check your vaccination records, have a blood test to confirm that you’re protected, or your doctor may decide to give you a booster dose of MMR to ensure that you are protected. This is especially important if you’ll be travelling to Europe, Asia or Africa where rates of measles are the highest. Talk to your doctor before you travel to figure out what vaccines and medications you might need.
If you are travelling into an area with a lot of measles activity with your infant, remember that they can receive a dose of the MMR vaccine as early as 6 months of age. Children are usually given 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, the first at 12 months of age and then a second shot at 18 months or at school age (sometime between age 4 and 6 years). But children and adults of all ages can get ‘catch-up’ shots at any age to bring their vaccination status up to date.
For the signs and symptoms of measles, see: http://www.toronto.ca/health/cdc/factsheets/measles_factsheet.htm#002