Measles have returned to Croatia. A few days ago, a seven-month old boy from Brnaze near Sinj was diagnosed with measles. He got infected in a hospital in Split while staying in the same room with a child from Makarska area who was subsequently also diagnosed with measles. Other cases have been diagnosed in Zagreb as well, confirmed the Croatian Institute of Public Health. Two years ago, Croatia experienced a small-scale epidemic of the highly contagious viral disease, with about sixty people being infected, reports Večernji List on February 19, 2017.
Previously, the virus spread in hospitals in 2004 as well. In 2008, the disease spread among Roma children from migrant families and infected about 50 people. These were mostly unvaccinated children. At the end of 2014, the virus was transferred from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the vaccination rate of the population is quite low and where that year there were 3,400 patients.
Measles outbreaks have been mostly confined to countries which have low vaccination rates, which has enabled the disease to spread, and the most recent cases of infection may be a sign of a new epidemic. “It is possible that in the coming weeks there will be an epidemic of measles, but that primarily depends on whether sensitive or non-immune persons were in contact with patients at the time while they were infectious”, said Bernard Kaić, an epidemiologist from the Croatian Institute of Public Health.
Physicians are repeatedly calling on parents to vaccinate their children and warn that expanding the circle of unvaccinated people is endangering small children and those who cannot receive the vaccine because of impaired immunity, for example, if they suffer from leukaemia. The first dose of the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella is given to children when they are one year old. During the first months of their lives, they are protected by antibodies produced by their vaccinated mothers.
In Croatia, the first dose of the vaccine is received by 94 percent of the population, while the second dose, which is given at the start of primary school, is received by 97 percent. The vaccination rate in Zagreb is around 95 percent, while the lowest rate is reported in Split-Dalmatia County. In recent years, it stood at 85 percent, and last year it further dropped to 81 percent.
“The coverage rate of vaccination against measles has been in a continuous slight decline in the last five years. However, it is still above 90 percent for the first dose. Coverage of the second dose has also been in a slight decline, but it is still above 95 percent. I cannot tell whether the anti-vaccination movement in Croatia is getting stronger or weaker, but my impression is that there is its growing presence on the internet”, said Kaić.
Many stories are spreading on the internet and they convince some parents not to vaccinate their children. There are unsubstantiated claims that the vaccine can cause autism, which strengthens the anti-vaccination movement. Conspiracy theorists accuse physicians and pharmacists of being a part of a supposed conspiracy. On the other hand, physicians have had enough and there is a growing number of them who decide against admitting children who have not been vaccinated, which means that their parents have to find another physician.
Precise data on measles in Croatia have been monitored since 1954. At the time when measles infected about 20,000 children annually, between ten and twenty children would die each year. The highest number of deaths was recorded in 1964, when 30 out of 14,866 patients died. Four years later, in 1968, compulsory vaccination was introduced, and in 1975 measles was officially eradicated. But now, in the 21st century, the disease has re-emerged.