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Low vaccination rates blamed for measles resurgence

As cases of measles increase, questions are being asked about whether the disease is set for a resurgence in the Hexagon due to low vaccination coverage.

Since November 2017, 77 cases have been recorded in the Bordeaux area - of which 12 have included hospitalisations.

The epidemic has been traced to an outbreak at the city’s university campus, prompting health agency L’Agence régionale de santé (ARS) to warn of “a lack of vaccination coverage” in the area.

Figures from Santé Publique France show that Gironde had an 80.3% vaccination coverage in 2015, coming in well under the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation of 95%.

No department in France has yet reached the recommended 95% rate, as public confidence in vaccinations shown to have dropped to just 75% in October 2017 (according to figures from Santé Publique France’s most recent Baromètre Santé study) compared to 90% support in the 2000s.

The vaccination against measles is, however, one of the 11 mandatory vaccinations brought into force since January 1 this year, alongside rubella and mumps, with the first dose given at 12 months, and the second 16-18 months, explains newspaper Le Monde.

Those who did not receive the vaccination as a child are still able to get it retrospectively at any age.

Measles is often known as a benign illness that primarily affects young children, but the ARS is warning that it can affect people of all ages, and become very serious - especially for those under five or over 30 years - causing problems such as brain inflammation (encephalitis), lung infections, and even blindness.

Spread through the air and very contagious, the virus stays active for two hours after leaving an ill person’s body.

People become contagious the night before their symptoms first appear, meaning that they can spread the illness before they are even aware they have it, with one person easily managing to infect 15-20 people each if they are in contact with them.

At least 10 people have died from measles in the past decade in France, according to figures from the WHO, of which three were not vaccinated for no apparent reason, and the rest were not able to receive the vaccination due to being too young, having compromised immune systems, or pregnancy.

Hence, vaccination is recommended even to healthy older people in their 20s and above, as wider vaccination coverage can help protect those who are not able to receive the jab.

Symptoms include a runny nose, high fever, a cough, red eyes, mouth sores; and a red rash over the face, neck, and body.

The ARS has this month issued advice on how to avoid spreading the disease further, with workers and students warned to stay at home for at least five days once the first symptoms appear, and in an epidemic period, this should be extended to 10 days.

Everyone should practice good hand washing hygiene, using water and soap plus a bacterial-killing alcohol gel afterwards.

Similarly, those affected should avoid contact with as many people as possible, especially non-vaccinated children; and if leaving the house becomes absolutely necessary, a medical face mask should be worn.

Rooms and bedrooms that house affected people should be aired out frequently, and the ill person should wear a mask even when interacting with other people in the household or when leaving their bedroom.

France is not the only European nation to be affected by a resurgence of measles of late; Italy and Romania have also both reported an increase in cases in the past two years, including over 30 deaths.

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