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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 11:49 GMT
Measles: The Irish experience
Baby in intensive care
Many babies were left seriously ill by the outbreak
A serious outbreak of measles in the Republic of Ireland has been blamed on parents refusing to have their children immunised.

Health experts have warned that a similar situation could arise here if vaccination rates for the childhood illness do not improve soon.

Measles immunisation was introduced in Ireland in 1985 - the Measles, Mumps and Rubella combined jab was used from 1988.

Prior to this, epidemics were commonplace - in 1985, more than 9,000 cases were reported to the authorities.

In 1993 and 1994 there was a severe outbreak of the disease - due to a slow uptake of the new vaccine, with 4,300 cases reported in 1993 and 1,200 in the following year.

But public health experts believed that they were beginning to bring the dangerous illness under control in subsequent years.

Between 150 and 235 cases were reported annually between 1995 and 1999.

However, during this period, scientists presented what was described as evidence of a possible link between the MMR jab and both autism and bowel disease.

Despite reassurances, public confidence in the vaccine was jolted, and immunisation rates dropped off.

Hospitalised

Last year, Ireland suffered the consequences.

Over the year, there were more than 1,500 cases of measles, hundreds of young children had to be hospitalised, some suffering from dangerous inflammation of the brain. Two did not survive, and many more were left with long-lasting disabilities.

Celine Daly's young daughter cannot walk properly, months after the infection.

She said: "She is back to being like a new-born baby now, she's still not the same."

It is thought that at least 95% of the child population has to be immunised against measles to greatly reduce the risk of a substantial outbreak.

In the Eastern Health Board of Ireland, which includes Dublin, immunisation rates currently stand at 74%.

Most areas of the UK have rates in high 80s, but some inner city areas, particularly in London, have fallen into the 70s.

So, although Dublin has been lower for longer, the risk of outbreaks in these areas grows with every year.

Dr Peter Keenan, a consultant paediatrician at one of the city's biggest hospitals, had this warning for the UK.

"If you continue with immunisation rates in the mid 70s, you will build up an unimmunised population in the community.

"All it will take is one case to ignite an outbreak."

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | Health
Fresh MMR autism link rejected
04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles outbreak warning
13 Sep 00 | Health
Child vaccine warning
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