Measles incidence rate in Malta is fifth highest in EU

There were 30 confirmed measles cases in Malta this year, according to the World Health Organisation, a 500% increase over the whole of 2018

Malta has experienced a 500% increase in measles cases this year
Malta has experienced a 500% increase in measles cases this year

Malta has experienced a sharp rise in measles cases this year, according to provisional data released by the World Health Organisation.

By the first week of August, Malta recorded 30 measles cases, which represents a 500% increase over the whole of last year. In 2018, Malta reported five cases of measles.

The warning signs were already visible last April when 15 cases had already been reported and the Maltese health authorities urged people to get vaccinated. Of the 15 cases reported until then, 13 were adults aged between 23 and 45 years, with the remaining being children.

READ ALSO: Doctors urge vaccination after sharp rise in measles cases

Malta’s annual incidence rate for measles per one million inhabitants has risen to 81.5 in August this year from 11.7 for the whole of 2018.

Malta’s incidence rate is the fifth highest among EU member states, and the 14th highest across the European region.

Malta had eradicated measles and rubella on the strength of a vaccination programme that targets all babies born here. However, Malta has not been immune to a recent increase in measles cases worldwide.

The measles outbreaks are partially fuelled by misinformed campaigns that spread fear over the safety of vaccines, the lack of vaccine coverage in many parts of the world and lack of knowledge on the importance of vaccines.

The WHO said that in the first six months of 2019, reported measles cases were the highest they have been in any year since 2006.

Measles outbreaks are straining health care systems, and leading to serious illness, disability, and deaths in many parts of the world, the organisation said.

“There have been almost three times as many cases reported to date in 2019 as there were at this same time last year,” WHO noted.

This follows successive yearly increases since 2016, indicating a concerning and continuing upsurge in the overall measles burden worldwide.

According to WHO, the European region reported close to 90,000 cases in the first six months of this year, exceeding those recorded for the whole of 2018. This puts the numbers at their highest in the current decade.

Vaccination is the best defence against measles
Vaccination is the best defence against measles

How to spot measles

The symptoms of measles, can often be confused with the common cold. However, the disease has some defining symptoms that include sore red eyes and a typical flat rash that starts from the head and works its way down.

Patients may also experience grey white spots on the inside of the mouth.

Measles is highly contagious, and transmitted through the air. It can be caught before the rash begins to manifest and four days from when the rash first appears.

The MMR vaccine is vital in preventing the virus from spreading. The vaccine is normally administered in two doses, with the first guaranteeing 93% immunisation, which is bumped up to 97% upon administration of the second dose.

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