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Health

Measles Surge: “Were You Born Between 1970 and 1985? Verify Your Vaccination Status

Virologists are urging individuals born between 1970 and 1985 to verify their vaccination status for measles, as the virus is on the rise, posing significant risks to babies, young children, and pregnant women, reports Het Laatste Nieuws. Those working in healthcare should particularly ensure they are protected, emphasizes virologist Steven Van Gucht of Sciensano.

Measles cases are increasing, with 64 confirmed or probable cases reported this year in Flanders alone (28 in Flemish Brabant, 18 in East Flanders, 12 in Antwerp, 3 in Limburg, and 3 in West Flanders). In comparison, there were only 35 cases in Flanders in all of 2023. Van Gucht highlights a major outbreak across the country, with over 150 cases reported in Belgium this year, though it hasn’t reached pandemic levels yet.

According to Sciensano, measles cases have been steadily rising since 2015, with a significant peak of 480 registered infections in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and associated measures temporarily reduced infections, but numbers are climbing again.

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease with symptoms that include a runny nose, cold, (high) fever, diarrhea, red or watery eyes, eye infection, and the characteristic red spots on the face that spread across the body. While often considered a childhood disease, adults can also contract measles.

The disease can be particularly dangerous for babies, young children, and some adults, leading to severe complications such as pneumonia, seizures, blindness, meningitis, and even death in rare cases. Pregnant women with measles face risks of premature birth, miscarriage, or fetal malformations.

Measles spreads through saliva droplets from coughing or talking, as well as through contaminated objects and surfaces. The infection period spans from 2 days before symptoms appear to 4 days after the rash emerges. Symptoms usually develop about 10 days after exposure.

As a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective against measles. Symptoms can be alleviated with medication and rest, but complications may require hospitalization.

Protection Against Measles

Vaccination is the most effective protection against measles, consisting of two doses administered at 12 months and between 10 and 13 years of age. The vaccine is part of the basic vaccination schedule but is not mandatory. It is provided free of charge along with the mumps and rubella vaccines (MMR) through various healthcare providers.

The measles vaccine was only included in the vaccination schedule starting in 1985, meaning many individuals born between 1970 and 1985 may not have received the full two-dose regimen, leaving them potentially underprotected. Van Gucht urges these individuals to check their vaccination status, especially those in healthcare.

How to Check Your Measles Status

Determining your measles immunity can be challenging for those born between 1970 and 1985 due to the lack of electronic records from that period. Van Gucht suggests consulting parents, old Child and Family booklets, or medical records from your GP. Online platforms like mijngezondheid.be or myhealthviewer.be may also hold relevant data, accessible with an electronic ID card. Blood tests for antibodies can also confirm immunity.

If no vaccination records are found, it is advisable to get vaccinated, especially for healthcare workers. Van Gucht reassures that vaccination is safe and beneficial. Once vaccinated or after having had the disease, immunity lasts for life.

Avoiding Measles Transmission

The Department of Healthcare stresses vigilance due to the rise in measles cases. People with symptoms should avoid crowded places and contact their doctor by phone for guidance on safe consultation and testing.

Children with symptoms should be kept home from daycare, school, or camps. If a test confirms measles, individuals should avoid contact with others for up to 4 days after the rash appears to prevent further spread.

“Measles is extremely contagious. If you have symptoms, stay away from crowded places and consult your doctor promptly to avoid further transmission,” advises Moonens from the Department of Healthcare.

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