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Ministry steps up action to avert epidemics

May 13, 2019 at 10:43am
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Seeking to avert the return of contagious diseases such as the measles, the Health Ministry will be carrying out a survey as from Monday to determine the vaccination cover of infants on the island, Phileleftheros reported on Monday.

Deputy head of the paediatrics unit at Makarios Hospital Maria Koliou told the newspaper that the survey was very important as it would shed light on any gaps in the immunity of children in Cyprus, enabling authorities to take action to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases.

The survey will be carried out islandwide from May 20 to 31, with families selected randomly. Parents will be asked to show records of their children’s vaccination history with officials from the Health Ministry visiting homes, checking vaccination records and in cases of inadequate immunity advising parents to act.

It will cover children aged 17 to 24 months. The methodology of the survey was decided by the Health Ministry under the guidance of World Health Organisation experts who visited Cyprus last August to prepare the survey.

Studies carried out by the Health Ministry every three years indicate that Cyprus has very high vaccination rates for the first three doses of the polio vaccine.

For other vaccines such as the first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) coverage of the population remain slightly below the target set by the WHO for the two MMR doses so as to eliminate measles and rubella.

There has been a spike in measles cases in a number of countries in Europe as well as in the US fuelling concern that the anti-vaccination movement may undo years of progress in eliminating contagious diseases.

The newspaper notes that in 2010, there was an outbreak of measles that was brought to Cyprus by a visitor from Bulgaria who infected another 17. Of these, 82% were not vaccinated.

Last week, WHO warned that more than 34,000 people across Europe caught measles in the first two months of 2019, with the vast majority of cases in Ukraine, as it urged authorities to ensure vulnerable people get vaccinated.

The death toll among 34,300 cases reported across 42 countries in the WHO’s European region reached 13, with the virus killing people in Ukraine – which is suffering a measles epidemic – as well as in Romania and Albania. The risk is that outbreaks may continue to spread, the WHO warned.

“If outbreak response is not timely and comprehensive, the virus will find its way into more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread to additional countries within and beyond the region,” it said in a statement.

“Every opportunity should be used to vaccinate susceptible children, adolescents and adults.”

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can kill and cause blindness, deafness or brain damage. It can be prevented with two doses of an effective vaccine, but – in part due to pockets of unvaccinated people – it is currently spreading in outbreaks in many parts of the world including in the United States, the Philippines and Thailand.

In Europe, the majority of measles cases so far in 2019 are in Ukraine, which saw more than 25,000 people infected in the first two months of the year.

There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles, and vaccination is the only way to prevent it, the WHO said. Most cases are in unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people.