The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in Europe is urging parents to get their children vaccinated against measles before the heavy spring travel period begins. As The Telegraph reported this week, this warning is in response to the surprisingly high number of reported measles cases among children in Europe. The center of the outbreak seems to be in France where so far this year 4,000 cases have been reported (to put it in perspective in all of 2006 there were 4,500 reported cases in Britain).
To date, 24 countries have reported measles cases in 2011. Health officials speculate that the virus was exported from France to popular tourist destinations such as Italy, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the United States.
An estimated 1.9 million U.S. children travel overseas each year and often are at risk for acquiring infectious diseases that might not be common in the United States. So before your next global trip, consult the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Vaccine Recommendations for Infants and Children.
The CDC lists measles as one of the leading causes of death for children around the world, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. However, due to a sensationalized report that the measles vaccine was linked to autism (which has since been discredited and retracted by The Lancet where it was originally published), some parents made the decision not to have their children vaccinated. In other cases, parents assume that their infants are too young to receive the vaccine. Though most children in the U.S. get inoculated at their one year check up, the CDC recommends that those aged 6 – 11 months old be vaccinated if they are going to travel outside of the U.S.
Measles is very contagious and can lead to other dangerous conditions such as pneumonia and encephalitis. If you have recently been to Europe and your child is exhibiting signs of measles – hacking cough, high fever, red eyes and possibly a rash that starts at the forehead and spreads down – be sure to let your doctor know where you’ve been. Measles is not common in the U.S. so diagnosing can be delayed if your doctor doesn’t know to look for it.