(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — The Ministry of Health says it is monitoring the island for imported cases of measles, given the recent increase in cases in the United States and across the Caribbean region.
In a release Monday, the ministry said measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult.
In order to stop the disease from spreading, 95 per cent of children in Jamaica need to be fully vaccinated with two doses — MMR1 at 12 months and MMR2 at 18 months.
However, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton has noted that “there has been a decrease in uptake of the vaccines over the last few years, and in 2018 Jamaica had 89 per cent coverage of MMR1 and 82 per cent coverage of MMR2.
“We are therefore appealing to all parents to visit the nearest health centre to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated, as measles kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease,” the minister is quoted as saying in the release.
According to the ministry, as at March 30, 2019 there were 3,674 suspected cases and 596 confirmed cases in the region of the Americas, with over 300 of the confirmed cases from the USA. In Europe, in January 2019 there were 881 cases of measles reported from 19 countries.
Chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie says that “most cases of measles are mild and symptoms usually appear 10 to 12 days after exposure to an infected person, but may appear as early as seven days and as late as 21 days after exposure.
Measles, she said, typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
“Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out, usually as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots,” she said.
She further noted that “complications from measles include ear infection and diarrhoea, while severe complications include pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and death. Pregnant women may give birth prematurely or have a low-birth weight baby”.
According to the release, in response to the increase in cases worldwide, the Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the year, enhanced its response — including sensitisation and training of approximately 60 health care professionals in the health regions in measles outbreak response, with mandatory training of rapid response teams across the island.
The ministry said, too, that information relating to the revised target groups and parish coverage for MMR1 and MMR2 vaccines have been communicated to all parish health teams.
Additionally, the ministry said it is recirculating communication to sensitise doctors and other health professionals about the increased risk of measles importation, and to heighten the index of suspicion for measles.
“The communication is also a reminder to doctors and nurses regarding the surveillance protocol for fever and rash, including the importance of immediate Class I notification and sampling on first contact, and prioritise vaccination of all children in the target group with two doses of MMR vaccine,” the release said.
A public education campaign has also started to sensitise members of the public to guard against this infection, the release said.