The Public Health Agency (PHA) is warning parents about the importance of protecting their children against the serious infectious disease measles, which can be life-threatening and spread to those who are unprotected.
The PHA is urging families to get their children fully immunised with two doses of MMR before travelling off to other countries, including European destinations for Easter holidays.
Although most common in children, measles can occur at any age. It is very infectious and can be caught either through direct contact with an infected person, or through the air when the patient coughs or sneezes.
The Health Protection Agency in England has reported sharp increases in cases of the measles virus in several European countries, including Denmark, France, Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands. Measles also remains common in other more exotic destinations in Africa and Asia.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA, said: “MMR immunisation is the safest and most effective way to prevent measles infection. I would also emphasise that it is never too late to vaccinate and would encourage children and young people of all ages to have two doses of the MMR vaccine to ensure they are protected. It is vitally important to ensure children’s and young people's vaccinations are up to date, particularly if they are in groups or settings where they may be at risk of getting an infection or, if they are infected, of passing on infection to other vulnerable individuals.
"In Northern Ireland we have had high uptake levels for MMR, which is why we have seen very few case of measles compared to both the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. However, the recent measles outbreak last year reminds us that there is no room for complacency.”
Dr Doherty continued: “While measles has become rare here, it is still occurring in other countries and anyone who is not fully protected could easily catch it if they came into contact with it while on holiday. It is therefore important to get the vaccine before going on holiday if you aren’t already fully protected. It’s worth getting the vaccine even a couple of days before going away, as the vaccine will protect as long as it is given before being exposed to measles. Being fully protected means having had two doses of MMR. Most people born before 1970 will have had measles and will therefore also be protected.”
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
- MMR uptake level in Northern Ireland is 97.1% for one dose and 92.2% for two doses at five years of age.
- France reported more than 1,500 cases of measles in 2009, 4,500 cases in 2010 and nearly 1,000 in January 2011.