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MEASLES EPIDEMIC FEARED.

Byline: NEIL COTTER

THE number of measles cases DOUBLED last year, sparking fears of a nationwide epidemic.

Doctors have been forced to issue a red alert after the cases of the disease in Ireland soared by more than 250 in 2003.

The uptake for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is 15 per cent below the national target of 95 per cent - the level needed to prevent an outbreak.

Experts at the National Disease Surveillance Centre warned yesterday: Vaccinate your children or you could face serious problems down the line.

The massive increase comes just four years after three young children died from measles-related illness.

Public health medicine specialist Dr Suzanne Cotter said: "The only way to prevent a measles epidemic is to have every child vaccinated at 24 months. That is absolutely the only way.

"The vaccine will protect 95 per cent of children.

"But even then, a further vaccine is needed at four and five years to protect the vulnerable group who for whatever reason didn't develop the antibody."

More than 500 cases were recorded last year, compared with 243 in 2002 and 241 in 2001.

However, in 2000 more than 1,600 children were affected by measles with most of them in the eastern region.

The huge numbers involved that year sparked a massive increase in the number of children getting vaccinated.

Dr Cotter explained: "There was a big rise in vaccinations in 2000 due to an outbreak early in the year. Parents were more worried than usual and the vaccination rate topped 80 per cent.

"When it all settled down and people forgot about it the rate dropped to below 70 per cent again.

"The rate is now back up at 80 per cent and rising steadily but we need to have it at 95 per cent to prevent serious problems.

"The problem isn't confined to any one area - cases are dotted around the country - and already this year the number has gone past the 200 mark.

"Measles will be around as long as children remain unprotected.

"It only circulates among humans and if we are protected as a group then we can get rid of it."
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 28, 2004
Words:361
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