Experts rush to areas hit by measles

With the number of cases of highly-infectious measles on the rise in Ranchi, Ahmedabad, and Malappuram as in Mumbai, the Centre on Wednesday rushed teams of high-level experts to these areas. Measles death count has surged to 11 in Mumbai alone while the case count there has reached 220.

The officials in the Union Health Ministry are keeping their fingers crossed, fearing Measles outbreak in more States as they cited the WHO and UNICEF observations shared early this year on the global status of the air-borne viral disease mainly affecting kids aged 1-2 years. The spike in cases may hamper the Ministry’s aim to eliminate Measles in the country by 2023. The global agencies had noted that pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against Measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The Ministry has already shot off a letter to all the States to keep a tab and take precautions against the air-borne viral infection. “Recently, increased numbers of measles cases are being reported from certain districts of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala and Maharashtra. A rapid rise in the number of cases and some mortality due to Measles has also been observed specifically in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and certain other Districts of Maharashtra.

“This is of particular concern from a public health point of view. It is also clear that in all such geographies, the affected children were predominantly unvaccinated and the average coverage of Measles Rubella Coverage vaccination (MRCV) among the eligible beneficiaries is also significantly below the national average,” says the circular.

According to the WHO, Measles cases increased by 79% compared to the previous year in the first two months of 2022. In India, the first dose coverage of the measles vaccine dropped to 88% in 2020 from 100% in 2018. The relaxation of movement restrictions is another factor that heightens the risk of larger outbreaks.

The agencies had flagged concern that outbreaks of measles could also forewarn outbreaks of other diseases that do not spread as rapidly. According to data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), India has reported the highest number of measles cases in the world between April and September 2022. Measles is a severe viral respiratory illness that is marked by a prodrome of fever (can go as high as 105 F) and persistent cough, malaise, coryza, and conjunctivitis. These symptoms are followed by a maculopapular rash. The rash usually appears about 10-14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.

For achieving the goal of elimination by 2023, each district must mobilise all resources optimally to achieve at least 95% measles rubella coverage vaccination ll by 2 years of age or at the latest by 5 years of age, as per the Ministry.

“States have been advised to administer one additional dose [special dose for measles and Rubella for Universal lmmunization Programme (UlP) to all children of 9 months to 5 years in vulnerable areas ie geographies which are showing recent increase in numbers of Measles cases. This dose would be in addition to the primary vaccination schedule of first dose at 9-12 months and second dose at 16-24 months,” as per the Ministry’s circular.

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