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Tackling resurgence of measles a priority - conference

Friday September 6th, 2019

Leading microbiologists have called for urgent measures to tackle the resurgence of measles.

At the 5th Vaccine Conference of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) in Bilbao, Spain, delegates will hear that it is the most urgent problem that must be addressed.

They will also hear that the risks of failing to vaccinate children may extend far beyond one specific vaccine.

In 2018, across the globe measles killed approximately one in every 75 children infected with the virus, which led to more than 100,000 deaths.

Research by Assistant Professor Michael Mina, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, also suggests that unvaccinated children infected with measles have an increased risk of other, subsequent severe, non-measles infectious diseases in the following two to three years.

This means that those children who survive measles may fall ill or die from other infections that they previously developed immunity to because the immunity was erased by the measles virus due to “immune-amnesia”.

Immune amnesia occurs when measles virus infects a person, primarily infecting memory cells of the immune system. The immune system cannot remember some of the diseases it has previously fought, which results in children being exposed to re-infection with these other diseases.

Dr Mina said: “Prior to vaccination, measles infected nearly everyone. Because we now think that measles infections may erase pre-existing immune memory, by preventing measles infection through vaccination, we prevent future infection with other infectious diseases allowed back into the body by the damage done by measles.

“The epidemiological data from the UK, USA and Denmark shows that measles causes children to be at a heightened risk of infectious disease mortality from other non-measles infections for approximately two to three years.”

He said that before the introduction of the measles vaccine, the incidence of measles from year to year could explain almost all of the variation in non-measles infectious disease deaths that occurred over multiple decades.

This suggests that measles may have been associated with as much as half of all childhood deaths due to infectious diseases prior to vaccination.

“It may be that the only way for a child to recover from this immune-amnesia is if their memory cells 'relearn' how to recognise and defend against diseases they had known before, and they can do this through re-exposure to the pathogen or by re-vaccination against that particular infection,” added Dr Mina.

However a recent epidemiological study led by Dr Rik de Swart of the Department of Virosciences at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, found that children were significantly more likely to require physician visits and had higher rates of antibiotic prescriptions for two to five years following measles.

Dr Mina said that to mitigate these long-term effects, it might be useful for children to be re-vaccinated with other childhood vaccines following measles infection.

The ESCMID 5th Vaccines Congress is taking place just one week after WHO announced that four European countries, the UK, Albania, Czech Republic and Greece, had all lost their previous 'measles-free' status due to confirmed endemic transmission.

* The World Health Organisation has welcomed Facebook’s commitment to helping to thwart misinformation about vaccines.

The social media giant has agreed to direct millions of its users on both Facebook and Instagram to WHO’s accurate and reliable vaccine information, to ensure that vital health messages reach people.

The commitment follows several months of discussions about how Facebook can help to reduce the incidences of inaccurate information about vaccines being left unchallenged on its sites.

WHO said that vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases, adding that major digital organisations have a responsibility to their users, to ensure they can access facts about vaccines and health.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “It would be great to see social and search platforms come together to leverage their combined reach. We want digital actors doing more to make it known around the world that vaccines work.

“We want innovation that supports healthy behaviours to save lives and protect the vulnerable. So many children whose parents fully support vaccination currently lack access to these life-saving tools.”

He added that the efforts online must be matched by tangible steps by governments and the health sector to promote trust in vaccination and respond to the needs and concerns of parents.

Tags: Child Health | Europe | Flu & Viruses | World Health

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