In light of measles outbreaks in the UK and Venezuela, the public health department is urging parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated against this disease.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar does not expect an outbreak to occur in Cayman, but wants parents to be vigilant.
‘I’m not concerned that we’ll have an outbreak. But we are all international here. The other day there were six cruise ships here which means there were about 10,000 tourists. So, if any of those people are infected with measles, they could infect the children here.
‘Or, returning residents who are exposed can infect someone in Cayman. The only way we can protect ourselves is by protecting our children,’ he said.
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is the only means of protection, he added.
While 95 per cent vaccine coverage is the recommended minimum to prevent or contain an outbreak, in Cayman vaccine coverage has averaged between 83 per cent and 91 per cent over the past five years, according to official records. Dr. Kumar explained there are several reasons for the lower figures.
‘Children may have been immunised elsewhere but we don’t have the record here. The coverage could in fact be higher because the children may have been immunised in other countries.
‘But once in our school system, our coverage projection is good, as high as 95 per cent,’ he said.
Dr. Kumar explained that as children enter the school system they are required to have a medical check-up, at which point anyone missing a vaccination will be discovered.
In addition, some parents still harbour fears about a connection between the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism, he said.
‘Some parents aren’t getting their children immunised because of their fear of autism due to reports in the UK about seven or eight years ago. There is no scientific validity to those reports, but some parents still have this fear,’ he explained.
The MMR vaccine needs to be administered in two doses, one given at 15 months and the second at age four to five. The vaccine does not take effect immediately, however.
‘Within about 10 days, there will be some protection and in about three to four weeks time, there will be about 95 per cent protection,’ Dr. Kumar said.
He stressed that he would like parents to check on the immunisation status of their children.
‘We want people to be alert so we are bringing it to their attention. Don’t wait too long,’ he said.
The last outbreak in Cayman was in 1990, when 27 cases were reported, according to GIS.
In Venezuela, a 33-year-old airline pilot who travelled to Madrid in February and became ill on his return was confirmed as having contracted measles. To date, 23 other cases have been reported. About 67,000 vaccines have been administered so far to control the outbreak.
In the UK, there were 18 reported cases in the Medway towns of Kent, which was attributed to a less than 82 per cent vaccine coverage.
In addition to the UK and Venezuela, measles have been confirmed this year in Mexico (22 cases), the US (three) and Canada (one).