Risk of measles and meningitis outbreaks in Donegal rises, warns HSE

Childhood vaccination rates have declined in the north west

The risk of measles and meningitis outbreaks in the north west has risen because the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations dropped at the start of this year

The uptake of outine childhood vaccinations dropped at the start of this year in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim

The risk of measles and meningitis outbreaks in the north west has risen because the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations dropped at the start of this year.

Figures revealed by the HSE show that so far in 2019, there have been 12 cases of measles, seven cases of whooping cough and 169 cases of mumps in the north west.

Parents are again being urged to get the correct information on childhood vaccinations.

"Every parent wants to protect their child and do what’s right for them," Dr Laura Heavey, Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine in HSE North West said.

"Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do, now that there is so much false and misleading information on the internet and social media when it comes to vaccination.

"I would really encourage parents to look for information in the right places. Two good sources of reliable, evidence-based information are www.immunisation.ie and the Vaccine Knowledge Project at http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/. All of the vaccines on the infant, child and adolescent schedule in Ireland are backed up with years of data on their safety."

When vaccination rates fall, there is an immediate increase in cases of diseases like measles, whooping cough, pneumonia and meningitis.

So far in 2019, there have been 12 cases of measles, 7 cases of whooping cough and 169 cases of mumps in the north west. These diseases can result in serious illness and even death. Even those who survive can have long term impacts on their health.

Infection with the measles virus wipes out the special white blood cells, called T lymphocytes, that play a vital role in immunity to disease. This means that children who get infected with measles will go on to get more illnesses for up to 3 years after their measles infection resolves, as their immune system struggles to recover from the virus.

"Getting a disease ‘naturally’ is actually more risky for a child’s immune system," added Dr Heavey,.

"A vaccine contains bacteria or viruses that are weakened or killed. Vaccines don’t activate the immune system in the same way that getting infected with a live bacteria or virus would.

"It’s much, much safer to get the MMR vaccine, for example, than risk your child getting sick with the live measles virus. A live virus or bacteria is much more stressful and difficult for the immune system to deal with."


Uptake of routine childhood vaccinations dropped at the start of 2019. Only 85% of 2 year olds in Donegal received the MMR.

Uptake of two doses of the meningitis C vaccine was 76% for Donegal and 85% for Sligo/Leitrim.  Full protection with three doses of the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) was also low at 75% for Donegal and 85% for Sligo/Leitrim.

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against a number of serious diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia. Although the majority of people in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim are still protecting their children with vaccination, 95% of people need to have the MMR vaccine to prevent the spread of measles. The HSE say the current vaccination levels in the north west will not stop outbreaks of disease.

Vaccines save up to 3 million lives every year. New developments mean that vaccines could eliminate certain cancers caused by the HPV virus too. Rising vaccine hesitancy is a serious threat to this progress. False information about vaccines on the internet is one of the causes.

The HSE say it’s never too late to catch up on your child’s vaccinations. If you are behind the schedule, contact your GP to discuss catching up.

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