Measles in Europe: Officials keeping ‘close watch’ for possible cases in Ireland, says Donnelly

Vaccination rate against measles stands at about 87 per cent, short of 95 per cent threshold advised by World Health Organisation to provide herd immunity

Health officials are keeping a “close watch” for possible measles cases in response to a surge in cases across Europe, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

The vaccination rate against measles stands at about 87 per cent, short of the 95 per cent threshold advised by the World Health Organisation to provide herd immunity, he pointed out.

Earlier this month, the UK declared a national incident after hundreds of measles were notified since the start of last year. Outbreaks have been concentrated in areas with low take-up of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

The WHO has issued an urgent warning over measles after an “alarming” 30-fold rise in cases across Europe. More than 30,000 cases of the disease were reported in the first nine months of last year, compared to under 1,000 in the whole of 2022.

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In Ireland, measles cases declined to zero during the Covid-19 pandemic and have stayed low since. No cases have been recorded so far this year.

The Health Service Executive has reminded doctors that as an infectious disease, measles cases must be immediately notified so that control measures can be put in place.

“Because of suboptimal vaccine coverage and increasing likelihood of cases being imported, it is vital that public health can act swiftly to limit control and prevent measles,” according to the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Control measures include isolation, contact tracing and preventive treatments.

Mr Donnelly says he has received a briefing on the threat from chief medical officer Prof Breda Smyth and would be presenting a memo to Cabinet soon.

After another week of extreme overcrowding in hospital emergency departments, the minister says the solution is to increase capacity and reform work practices.

Referring to Cork University Hospital, one of two hospitals that set a new overcrowding record during the week, he says it has added 1,177 extra staff since 2020 and its budget has been increased by one-third.

Further reform is needed in the hospital in relation to low weekend discharge rates, discharge practices and the relationship between hospital and community services, he says.

The minister was speaking on Friday at St Vincent’s University Hospital, where he was visiting teams delivering patient care using new community-based pathways.

The new model of care aims to allow patients in areas such as ophthalmology, urology, orthopaedics, nephrology and diabetes access services in the community, without the need to attend hospital.

A number of conditions are being prioritised for the modernised care pathways, including eye care, fractures and continence.

Mr Donnelly says the approach would bring care closer to where people lived. It also involves shifting work from consultant to other grades such as advanced nurse practitioners.

Ten per cent of dialysis is now being delivered at home, he points out, and the aim is to double this figure by the end of the year.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.