Large measles outbreak in S’pore unlikely despite WHO warning of global ‘imminent threat’: MOH

On Nov 23, WHO and the US CDC flagged the risk of measles spreading in various regions around the world. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The likelihood of a large outbreak of measles in Singapore remains low, said the Ministry of Health (MOH), despite the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recent warning that there is an imminent global threat.

Measles, also known as rubeola, is one of the most contagious human viruses. The potentially fatal virus affects the respiratory system, often resulting in a skin rash.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, MOH said Singapore’s population has a high level of immunity against measles and the likelihood of a large outbreak is low because of high vaccination coverage for the virus here.

On Nov 23, the WHO and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flagged the risk of measles spreading in various regions around the world.

They attributed the threat to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to a decline in vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease, coupled with large and persistent outbreaks in 2022.

The virus is almost entirely preventable by vaccination and requires at least 95 per cent of a population to receive two doses of measles vaccine to achieve herd immunity, they noted.

However, vaccination across the world is well under this level, with only 81 per cent of children receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose and only 71 per cent of children getting their second, WHO and the US public health agency said.

A record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021, raising the risk of the highly infectious respiratory virus re-emerging around the world, they noted.

In Singapore, first vaccine dose coverage for the population has been consistently above 95 per cent from 2011 to 2021, with second dose coverage hovering around 90 per cent, MOH said.

The ministry strongly encouraged parents to ensure that their young children receive two doses of the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccination on schedule and as recommended by their medical practitioners.

Measles vaccination is mandatory by law for all children living in Singapore.

MOH also recommended vaccination for adults – who are also susceptible to the virus – who are not protected. This includes those who have not received both doses of the MMR vaccination or have not had measles infection previously.

As at Nov 26, Singapore has recorded three cases of measles for 2022, according to MOH’s website.

Earlier in November, passengers on a Qantas flight from Singapore to Melbourne and visitors to Melbourne’s international airport experienced a measles scare after three cases were detected in a group of travellers on the flight.

The virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days and is transmitted through respiratory droplets, direct contact with nasal or throat secretions, and – less commonly – by items that are freshly soiled with these secretions.

No WHO region has achieved and sustained its elimination of measles, said WHO and CDC, with 10 countries that had previously eliminated measles experiencing outbreaks since 2016.

In 2021 alone, there were an estimated nine million cases and 128,000 deaths from measles worldwide, they added.

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