Record number of cases of measles diagnosed in Finland this year
The number of incidents of infection is fivefold compared with that in 2010
A total of 25 individuals have caught measles in Finland so far this year.
This may not sound like a lot, but the number is five times higher than the documented cases who contracted the illness in the whole of 2010, when the number of infections was only five.
The most recent incidents are from August, when five individuals were diagnosed with the illness in the Finnish Defence Forces.
The infections had been contracted at the Finnish National Defence University and the School of Naval Warfare.
All infected individuals had previously served in the same place, where one person had come down with measles after having made a trip to Europe, passing the disease on to the four other people.
Measles is highly contagious, and it is spread through respiration or contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose and mouth.
The previous cluster of measles infections was detected in the spring and early summer when 20 people came down with the illness in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa.
As a result of the infections, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) decided that the inoculation of small children against measles should be started earlier than before.
The protection against measles is included in the MMR vaccine, which is an immunisation shot against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine is a mixture of three live attenuated viruses, administered via injection.
The vaccine is administered in two shots, the first of which is now given to children around the age of one year. Even a six-month-old child can be vaccinated if he or she is about to travel abroad.
Last spring, the Finnish Defence Forces advised all conscripts and staff to make sure that they have received both doses of the MMR vaccine.
If the second dose was missing, they could have it administered at the garrison’s infirmary.
All conscripts who started military service in July were asked for information about their vaccination coverage against measles.
Most individuals' protection against the illness was in order, reports the Defence Forces epidemiologist Maria Virkki.
Measles disappeared from Finland by the beginning of the 21st century. All Finns born in the 1950s had already had measles, so had also many of those born in the 1960s.
Inoculation campaigns against measles were launched at the beginning of the 1980s.
In the spring, many adults who had been born in the 1970s and been left without protection were among those infected.
The Finnish Defence Forces see that the situation is a consequence of the anti-vaccination attitudes in the 1990s.
At that time, many parents questioned the significance of the MMR vaccine, as it had been mistakenly linked with autism.
It is possible that the number of infections will increase further, as a severe epidemic is in progress in Central Europe, where more than 12,000 people have been hit with the illness.
Cases of measles have been detected particularly in Belgium, France, Spain, Serbia, Switzerland, Macedonia, Great Britain, and Uzbekistan.
The infected individuals have been either children aged 1 to 4 years or young people between 15 and 29, missing one or both doses of the vaccine.
The age groups are familiar to Maria Virkki: ”During my assignments abroad, I have previously seen people dying from measles. They were young adults. Small children were left disabled.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Ten cases of measles diagnosed in Finland this year (6.5.2011)
Unvaccinated child catches measles (29.3.2011)