PRESS RELEASE BY THE HEALTH PROMOTION AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE DIRECTORATE: Malta attains the WHO Regional Verification Commission for measles and Rubella elimination for the period 2012-2016

In order to ensure a low prevalence of measles we need to ensure that all children are vaccinated and continue to improve on our coverage rates. The measles vaccine in Malta is offered free as part of the national vaccination schedule. Many countries, including Malta, have seen a drop in the coverage rate as a consequence of the effects of anti-vaccine lobbyists and vaccine scares. These are unfounded and putting children at risk of disease and serious complications.

The World Health Organization has alerted on the situation of measles, which is still prevalent in various countries. Over 500 measles cases were reported in January 2017 in the WHO European Region. Measles continues to spread within European countries with the potential of causing large outbreaks wherever immunization coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95%.

In Malta 2 adult cases were reported in 2015, while there were no cases in 2016 or 2017.

“With steady progress towards elimination over the past two years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe”, says WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab. “Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations”.

It is strongly advised that all children are vaccinated according to the national schedule with two doses of the vaccine. Adults who will be travelling are encouraged to check their vaccination records and speak to their doctor. For more information contact the National Immunisation on 25680222-3-4/25680000 or the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000.

Background information on measles

Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause potentially serious illness. As measles remains endemic in most parts of the world, it can spread to any country, including those that have eliminated the disease. Every un- or under-immunized person regardless of age is therefore at risk of contracting the disease; this is especially true in those countries where persistently low immunization rates increase the risk of a large outbreak with possible tragic consequences.

The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage. After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of 7 to 18 days).

Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications are more common in children under the age of 5 years, or adults over the age of 20. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.

Source: Government of Malta