MMR warning: WHO fears measles vaccination rate will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during coronavirus crisis
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The World Health Organization fears that measles vaccination rates will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during the coronavirus crisis.
Alongside requiring social distancing, the COVID-19 pandemic is also piling pressure on health services and their usual activities, the UN warned on Tuesday.
Already, measles immunisation campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed and more will be postponed, report the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI).
This has the potential to put around 117 million children across 37 countries at risk from the highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease.
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The World Health Organization fears that measles vaccination rates will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during the coronavirus crisis. Pictured, a child with the characteristic blotchy skin rash caused by a measles infection (stock image)
‘If the difficult choice to pause vaccination is made due to the spread of COVID-19, we urge leaders to intensify efforts to track unvaccinated children, so that the most vulnerable populations can be provided with measles vaccines as soon as it becomes possible to do so,’ the group said in a statement.
‘While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of COVID-19, delivering all immunisation services, including measles vaccines, is essential to saving lives.’
The respiratory disease COVID-19 has killed more than 113,000 people and left countries around the world in virtual lockdown as they try to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes it.
But in its shadow, a surge in measles outbreaks poses another major global health threat.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in December that measles had infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, in what it described as ‘an outrage’.
The viral disease is highly contagious but can be prevented by mass immunisation, which would normally mean babies and children being vaccinated as part of routine health services.
With the fight against COVID-19 in most countries focused on keeping health workers safe from infection and imposing strict social distancing measures, the WHO has recommended that governments temporarily pause preventive immunisation campaigns, such as those against measles, where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.
Already, measles immunisation campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed and more will be postponed, report the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI). This has the potential to put around 117 million children across 37 countries at risk from the highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease
In many parts of Africa, medical aid projects that might normally include measles and other vaccine campaigns have stalled as countries have closed their borders and limited routine health services due to the pandemic.
The M&RI group said it supports the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19, but warned that this should not mean that children permanently miss out.
‘Urgent efforts must be taken now […] to prepare to close the immunity gaps that the measles virus will exploit,’ it said.
WHAT IS MEASLES, WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW CAN YOU CATCH IT?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.
Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.
The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading.
Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.
In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.
Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious.
‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain.
‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’
Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.
Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
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