July 12, 2017 12:10 pm
Updated: July 12, 2017 12:39 pm

Measles alert: Vaccinate your kids before heading to Europe as outbreak spreads

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If your family is heading to Europe this summer, double check that your kids are fully vaccinated as measles cases surge across the continent.

The World Health Organization recorded 35 deaths tied to measles along with another 3,300 cases since June 2016 as the continent grapples with an ongoing outbreak.

The latest fatality was a six-year-old boy in Italy. Romania dealt with the bulk of the deaths – 31 – while single fatalities were reported in Germany and Portugal.

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“Remaining pockets” of low immunization coverage is what’s sparking the outbreaks of the highly contagious virus.

Of 32 European countries that have had measles cases since February 2016, 22 had measles vaccination rates below 95 per cent. (Herd immunity kicks in at 95 per cent – it’s the level at which, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are enough people immunized to protect everyone.)

READ MORE: Why is measles so contagious? 5 things you need to know

In Romania, for example, the country’s vaccination rate is 86 per cent. Canada’s own uptake of the MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine sits at about 90 per cent.

“Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy. We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement.

“Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population,” Jakab said.

READ MORE: Deadly measles outbreak spreads in Europe as vaccinations fall

Outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough have been reported across Canada. Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, told Global News in April that she’s hoping to reverse a growing trend of anti-vaccination.

“These outbreaks are occurring and occurring as we speak … it’s possible that we’ll see an increase in [measles cases]. We are keeping up a certain level of vaccine coverage but we need to do better,” Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said.

She said it’s “on the top of the list of priorities.”

Measles is considered one of the most contagious infectious diseases. Its potency lies in one of its characteristics – it’s an airborne virus, which means that somebody with measles is expelling the virus when they speak, cough, and sneeze.

READ MORE: Anti-vaccination movement means preventable diseases making a comeback

The virus is now in tiny particles that float on air currents and make their way into the next victim’s nose, mouth and throat.

They also linger in the air, on doorknobs, and other surfaces for about two hours, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a tropical infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto, said that there’s no reason why outbreaks should be occurring in Canada.

“It’s quite concerning because there’s no reason for this. The vaccine is very effective and it’s readily available in a region where people have excellent access to care,” he told Global News.

READ MORE: Got norovirus? 5 things you need to know about the ‘winter vomiting bug’

“This reflects a much larger trend in Western society where people are choosing not to vaccinate themselves and their children. It’s not surprising if we’ll see more outbreaks of completely preventable infections,” he warned.

The best way to prevent measles is to get inoculated with two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) immunization. The initial shot is given to a child at 12 to 15 months of age, followed by a second dose between 18 months and four to six years of age.

Adults whose immunizations aren’t up to date should receive at least one dose of the vaccine, although two is preferable.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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