By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
OFFICIALS are on “heightened” alert over the highly infectious measles disease as the country’s vaccination coverage remains at decreased levels, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday.
This is a “serious problem” the minister said, which could diminish the “herd immunity” needed to stop the development of an outbreak.
While there have not been any cases reported in the country, health officials have reason to be concerned with outbreaks now occurring all over the world including the United States, Venezuela, Europe and the Philippines.
US media reports this week say so far 79 measles cases were reported by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention since the start of 2019. Of this number, 50 were in Washington State.
As for the Philippines, since January 26 there have been 1,813 measles cases and 26 deaths, according to that country’s Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau. That’s a 74 percent increase from 2018, compounding concern for the 2.4 million unvaccinated children there. Dr Sands also noted the Venezuelan economic crisis and how such diseases are likely to increase there.
The last measles case in the Bahamas was in 1997, but Dr Sands said this is a miniscule detail when we consider international travel.
The number of children receiving the MMR1 vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella has also seen steady decline. As of 2016, only 89 percent of children received this vaccination. It is also the lowest rate dating back to 2012.
Measles is spread by coughing and sneezing as well as contact with materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils and furniture.
Initial signs and symptoms typically include fever, cough, catarrhal inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose and conjunctivitis. Within two to three days from the start of symptoms, Koplik spots may be noted. Within three to five days from the start of symptoms, a flat rash is seen.
Symptoms develop 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person and can last 7-10 days.
“As a matter of fact there are many countries in the Caribbean that would have reported eradication of measles,” Dr Sands said yesterday. “There has been an unfortunate change in behaviour, whether you call it vaccine reluctance or vaccine resistance or whatever, where for various means of misinformation or disinformation people have stopped vaccinating their children at the level that they would have.
“When you add to that natural disasters or political turmoil what we’ve seen is a reemergence of a number of vaccine preventable diseases, diphtheria measles, yellow fever, etc and in the Bahamas our level of vaccination has dropped.
“That is a serious problem because you don’t have the herd immunity to stop the development of the outbreak and you know a lot of people who have refused to vaccinate their children are themselves vaccinated.
“So it’s a sexy idea - ‘I’m concerned that these big pharma and big medicine want to do things to my children’ - but now that you see these diseases coming back and killing children you recognise just how irresponsible this behaviour has been and so yes, what we have to do is to now have new revaccination campaigns to clean up the missing children.”
Given the worldwide situation Dr Sands said officials here are taking some measures.
Children and teenagers who missed the important MMR1 vaccination are now being targeted in a special campaign by the ministry.
They are targeting 7,000 children between one to 15-years-old and 40,800 of them 16-years and older.
The objective is to increase MMR immunisation coverage in all children 15 years and younger by ensuring two doses of MMR vaccine are administered.
Officials also want to immunise all healthcare workers and front line tourist workers with two doses each. This category includes all law enforcement departments, hotel workers, taxi drivers, airport workers, port workers, straw vendors and storefront workers.