“Really worried”: health chief’s reaction to resurgence of measles in Portugal

Health chief Francisco George has said he is “really worried” over five cases of measles reported in Portugal since the start of the year – all of them in children unprotected by statutory vaccines.

The cases – one in the north, and four in the Algarve – are the first in decades to be registered in the country, as the highly contagious virus had been eliminated “due to an efficient vaccination programme”, George told TSF radio.

Nevertheless, with conflicting attitudes to vaccinations, an increasing number of parents have taken to eschewing them – leading the World Health Organisation to warn countries of the risks of measles returning.

Says George, mothers of young children should be making sure their vaccinations are up to date.

The measles vaccine these days is combined with mumps and rubella in a triple shot that has, for multiple reasons, received ‘bad press’ in alternative circles.

Portugal’s national vaccine programme calls for babies to be immunised at 12 months of age, with a booster shot due four years later.

As George told TSF, there are “few” children in Portugal that have not been vaccinated, and health authorities now will be concentrating on the source/s that led to this year’s batch of cases.

Público today suggests one of the cases “originated in Venezuela”, while there are no answers yet on the others.

“Our appeal is for all children of these ages to be properly vaccinated, and for mothers and fathers not to stop vaccinating their children because they should not compromise their health”, said George – particularly as babies “do not have the power” to make what he clearly believes is a bad decision.

TSF adds that George alerted to the “dangers posed by measles”, which can at worst prove fatal.

Complications occur in about 30% of cases, according to Wikipedia and “may include diarrhea, blindness, inflammation of the brain and pneumonia”.

George did not elaborate on whether any of the cases of measles detected in Portugal this year went on to develop complications, but he did say that because the disease had all but died out, today’s doctors could have trouble even spotting it.

“Measles vaccines started about 35 years ago”, he told TSF, “and so there are very few doctors who recognise it. This is really why we are worried. We are talking about a disease that was easy to diagnose in the days when it was frequent”, he added.

Público’s story claims that the case of the disease thought to have been contracted in Venezuela, involved an adult. But the paper stresses that “the evolution” of the all patients “is being positive”,

UPDATE SUNDAY: Yesterday, the national health authority updated its news, saying there have been six cases of measles not five: two in the north, and four in the Algarve.

More details are due on Monday.

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