Ministry monitors measles outbreak in Europe and the Americas

POSTED: 10/20/11 2:05 PM

St. Maarten – The Collective Prevention Service (CPS) of the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour, is monitoring several large measles outbreaks in the European and African regions, with several reported outbreaks in the Americas linked to imported cases from Europe and Africa. The department also recommends residents ensure that their vaccination status is up to date prior to travel.

Some 40 of 53 member states in the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region have reported over 26,000 confirmed measles cases for the period January to July 2011 as of September 20. France reported the highest number of cases (14, 000) for the first six months of the year. In addition, 11 of all cases in the region were lethal (six in France and one each in Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom).

The Americas reported their last case of endemic measles in 2002.  In 2011 the region has received reports of several outbreaks linked to importation of measles virus from other regions. There were 742 reported cases in Quebec, Canada. Some 89 of those people had to be hospitalized, but there were no measles-associated deaths. The second largest outbreak in the Americas has been reported in the United States of America which had 213 cases in the first six months of the year. Most of these outbreaks are linked to importations from Europe, except for outbreaks in the United States linked to cases from Malaysia.

“It is recommended that any resident of the Americas planning to travel to other regions of the world should be protected against measles and rubella (Measles, Mumps, Rubella MMR combination vaccine) prior to departing on their trip. Travel increases the risk for exposure to measles virus and its further spread into susceptible populations if not vaccinated.  An outbreak of measles is defined as a chain of transmission with three or more confirmed cases,” a release from the Department of Communication stated.

Measles is spread by contact with an infected person and through droplets in the air when someone coughs and/or sneezes. Measles is a highly infectious but fully preventable disease that causes complications and death, even in previously healthy individuals.

Countries need to ensure that they reach 95 per cent coverage with two doses of measles vaccine across all age groups up to 15 years of age. Otherwise the country will experience measles outbreaks with large numbers of cases, associated hospitalizations and deaths. The recent outbreaks in countries with high volumes of international travelers can lead to measles exportation to regions previously frees of measles, such as the Region of the Americas or certain African countries. These exportations can lead to large outbreaks and associated deaths.  St. Maarten’s coverage ranges between 85 to 90 per cent. This coverage is influenced by the parent’s consent and population mobilization. It is necessary for parents/guardians to double check their children’s vaccination status to ensure that your child is up to date.

Travelers who have not been vaccinated against measles and rubella are at risk of getting the disease and transmitting it to their friends and family members who may not be up to date with their vaccinations. To prevent further spread, WHO encourages health authorities to advocate for immunization before travel and to provide immunizations through health systems’ immunization services according to existing national immunization schedule. WHO recommends at least one dose prior to international travel for adolescents and adults who are unsure about their immunity status.

Measles are highly contagious and remains one of the world’s biggest causes of death among young children. Travelers may be exposed on airplanes or in airports. This disease can be prevented through a safe and effective vaccine, the combination MMR vaccine. International travelers must show evidence of immunity to measles and rubella by ensuring that they have had two doses of measles-containing vaccine before their trip. The first MMR vaccine is routinely recommended at age 12 months. Ensure that you and your child are well vaccinated.  For children, birth through 17 years of age, contact Youth Health Care (YHC) and for adults consult your family physician.

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