The Public Health Agency (PHA) is warning parents of the importance of protecting their children against measles following an outbreak of the infectious disease in the Republic of Ireland.
Families are being urged to get their children fully immunised with two doses of MMR before travelling during to other countries, including the Republic of Ireland and other European destinations during the summer 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.
Dr Gerry Waldron, Acting Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA, said: “As we approach the time of year when many families are travelling on summer holidays we are reminding parents to make sure their children and themselves are fully immunised with two doses of MMR before they go, particularly if visiting areas where there is a known outbreak of measles.
“However, measles is highly infectious, can be life-threatening and spreads easily to those who are unprotected, so even if you aren’t planning to travel you should get the MMR anyway if you haven’t already done so.”
The Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland has reported that a measles outbreak in West Cork has now affected 51 children, including two who have been hospitalised. Most of the children infected in Cork are teenagers and 88% of cases have never received any dose of MMR vaccine.
Dr Waldron continued: “If children are not vaccinated they are left exposed to a serious and potentially fatal disease. MMR immunisation is the safest and most effective way to prevent measles infection and it is never too late to get vaccinated. Children and young people of all ages should 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. 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.”
Dr Waldron pointed out that Northern Ireland has high uptake levels for MMR, which is why there are very few case of measles here compared with both the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
“MMR uptake rates are very high - just over 93% of children have received it by the age of two and by five years of age, nearly 97% of children have had one dose of MMR and around 91% have had the recommended two doses. This is a great tribute to all the doctors, nurses and administrative staff involved in delivery the programme, but above all it is a tribute to parents who are choosing to do the best thing for their children by protecting them against these serious infections,” he added.