Controversy over Portugal’s measles ‘epidemic’ (more cases confirmed since January than in the last eight years) ratcheted up exponentially on Wednesday when the country’s first fatality - a 17-year-old girl - was reported.
Inês Sampaio’s mother was “anti-vaccine” and believes in homeopathy, national papers initially suggested.
This was overly simplistic. In fact, Amélia Sampaio is not anti-vaccine . She has vaccinated her other two children, it was simply that Inês suffered anaphylactic shock as a baby when given her first vaccines, and the family was “advised” not to repeat the experiment.
The child went on to develop the skin-condition of psoriasis, and due to this allergic tendency in her body did not take any further vaccines on the national programme.
Another less publicised side to the tragedy is that Inês was already in hospital when she contracted measles, thus - as national tabloid Correio da Manhã explains - she was “suffering from a weakened immune system”.
This aspect of ‘healthy immune systems’ has been echoed by health boss Francisco George, who told journalists yesterday that he doubted measles would ever develop into a “large scale epidemic” in Portugal, due to the fact that most of the country is immunised against it, and the disease “only exists in people who are sick. To circulate it needs to find favourable territory, and we do not have favourable territory”, he said.
The population is still covered against measles to a level of “around 96%”, said George, and on Wednesday morning, he and health minister Adalberto Campos Ferreira stressed that “there had been no new cases” of the virus “registered since last Friday”.
Meantime, although only 21 cases here have been ‘confirmed’ nationwide as measles, there could be up to 36 in total - 15 are still apparently ‘under analysis’.
Of the confirmed cases, 57% were in non-vaccinated children and adults (two health professionals at Cascais hospital) and seven have been in the Algarve, reports CM today (see below).
Francisco George has also stressed that the country has abundant stocks (200,000 doses) of the MMR triple vaccine that includes measles, with “even firefighters at national airports” having supplies.
Elsewhere in Europe, the situation is more serious. Italy, for example, has registered 1500 cases of measles, George told reporters - 150 of them in nurses and doctors.
As explained earlier this week, the current outbreak is believed to have started in Romania where 4000 cases have been reported since February last year.
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Switzerland and Sweden have also registered cases since 2016.
BABY IN PORTIMÂO MISDIAGNOSED WITH “VIRUS”
The parents of nine-month-old Maxi Borhidan are reported to have presented a complaint to Portimão hospital over the way measles was not detected in their baby as far back as March 11.
Maxi was taken to hospital with a high fever, reports CM today, a rash all over his body, a swollen mouth and conjunctivitis - but the doctor who saw him failed to diagnose measles, as did the specialist who saw him days later in Faro, for the simple reason that doctors then believed Portugal was measles free.
This is another aspect of the outbreak that has been worrying health bosses. George told reporters early on that one of the biggest problems was that many doctors today “have not even seen measles”, due to its wane as a result of national vaccination programmes.
In Maxi’s case, the child is a cardiac patient, and is believed to have contracted the disease during one of his regular check-ups at Faro hospital.
The good news in this case is that Maxi has been released from hospital and is now fully recovered from the virus.
Being nine-months old, he was not due his triple vaccine protecting against measles for another three months.
The other six cases known to have been contracted in the Algarve - three other children and three adults - have “all been cured”, adds CM.