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Health Board reports first case of measles in Estonia in years

A rash characteristic of measles.
A rash characteristic of measles. Source: Health Board

This week, an adult living in Harju County received confirmation of being infected with measles. The case is local as the infected individual has not traveled abroad recently.

The individual infected with measles had been vaccinated against the disease in childhood. However, according to the Health Board, their year of birth suggests that the single vaccine dose received in the late 60s did not prevent the illness.

The Health Board has identified the circumstances of the infection and the possible close contacts of the infected person. The agency is concerned because the individual works at a kindergarten, but so far, no additional infections have been identified among family members or related to the workplace.

Healthcare workers have also been notified to pay more attention to patients with a rash, as hidden domestic spread of measles cannot be ruled out.

Measles is under close scrutiny by the Health Board because it is a highly contagious viral disease. One infected person can infect up to 18 unvaccinated individuals. The virus is accompanied by a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius, a fine speckled red rash, and swollen lymph nodes. Complications can include inflammation of the ear, lungs or in more severe cases, brain tissue. Measles can be life-threatening.

In Estonia, infections discovered so far have generally been associated with the disease brought back from trips. For example, in 2023, four imported cases were registered (two people were infected in Thailand, one in Germany and one in the United Arab Emirates), and there were no cases of local spread.

The last case of domestic spread was in 2019.

There is an effective vaccine against measles (MMR vaccine), but over time, the number of parents willing to vaccinate their children has decreased. "Currently, there are at least 30,000 children in Estonia who are not vaccinated against the disease and could therefore be in a life-threatening situation if infected," warned Irina Filippova, the chief specialist of the Department of Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases at the Health Board.

Vaccination is also possible in adulthood, and residents of Estonia born between 1980-1992, who received a measles vaccine of unstable quality from Russia, should update their vaccine protection. Adult re-vaccination is paid, and advice can be sought from a family doctor.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 2,361 cases of measles were registered in 23 countries in Europe in 2023. Most cases were detected in Romania (1,755), but there were also cases in Austria (186), France (118), Germany (82), Belgium (69), Italy (44), Poland (37), Spain (13), and Sweden (11). In other European countries, fewer than ten cases were detected per country.

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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski

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