Make sure measles shots are up to date, Army health officials warn parents
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. Army health officials in Europe are warning military families about an outbreak of measles on the Continent, cautioning that adults and children not vaccinated against the virus could be at risk for infection, particularly when traveling around Europe.
There have been no reported cases among Defense Department dependents in Europe, a Regional Health Command Europe spokesman said.
“The vast majority of Americans are already immunized against measles, having received at least two doses of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine in early childhood,” Col. Rodney Coldren, a doctor and chief of epidemiology and disease surveillance for Public Health Command Europe, said in a statement.
But officials said there are two groups of people in the American military community that are particularly vulnerable to measles infection and recommend that families review their vaccination records, to ensure they’re protected when traveling around Europe.
The first group includes families who were not subject to the U.S. immunization schedule as children, such as foreign-born spouses.
The other group are children under a year old traveling to high risk areas. Children under one are too young to receive the first-regularly scheduled measles vaccine. But, children traveling to an area affected by a measles outbreak may receive the first dose of the vaccine as early as six months, Regional Health Command Europe officials said. The early dose, however, is additional and does not replace the first shot in the normal immunization schedule.
Children in the U.S. typically receive a two-dose series of the MMR vaccine at ages 12 through 15 months and at 4 through 6 years of age, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two doses of the vaccine are recommended to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks, as about 15 percent of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose, according to the World Health Organization. In a majority of European Union countries, the national vaccination coverage is less than 95 percent for the second dose of the MMR vaccine.
More than 500 measles cases were reported in January in WHO’s European Region and measles continues to spread within and among European countries, the agency said in late March.
The largest current measles outbreaks in Europe are in Romania and Italy, WHO said. Romania has reported more than 3,400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016. The majority of cases are concentrated in areas where immunization coverage is especially low.
“Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond reach of the measles virus,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, in a statement. “Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”
Other countries in Europe have seen an uptick in cases, as well, including France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Ukraine, according to Regional Health Command Europe.
As of March 12, Germany has reported 272 cases since the beginning of the year; in the same period last year, Germany reported 18 cases, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and Sweden have also experienced a few cases.
Almost all cases have occurred in individuals not properly immunized against the disease, officials said.