Measles hit Zagreb as social media join fight against anti-vaccination

Epidemiologist Iva Pem Novosel from the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ) said she was worried about the negative trend of poor vaccination in past years. [Shutterstock]

Seven people have been diagnosed with measles in Zagreb in the past two weeks, raising concerns that more cases of this highly contagious virus may occur in light of the rising anti-vaccination campaigns.

This is not the first case of measles reported in Croatia. In the past months, a few cases have been reported in Dubrovnik and Split. In 2015, an epidemic broke out in Zagreb, mostly in Roma settlements, where most of the people are not vaccinated.

Epidemiologist Iva Pem Novosel from the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ) said she was worried about the negative trend of poor vaccination in past years.

“Due to insufficient vaccination, we now have cases that measles returned to European countries, which had completely eradicated them before,” Novosel said. “We are talking about 90% of vaccinated population while experts believe that for collective immunity, the cleavage must be above 95%,” she added.

The World Health Organisation published earlier this month a report suggesting that the disease has reappeared in four countries where it was considered eliminated- the UK, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania.

Despite warnings, Europe still severely exposed to measles

Although awareness and EU coordination on vaccination has increased, Europe is still experiencing an embarrassingly severe measles’ outbreak.

Experts are particularly worried considering that this time, infected patients are not interconnected and the disease appeared in different areas of Zagreb.

“The epidemic must have a logical cause,” said Bernard Kaić, head of the Epidemiology Service of the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ),

“It may be that these people, unknowingly, met by chance somewhere, but this possibility is almost unbelievable,” he added.

All patients have been placed in the Infectious Diseases Clinic Fran Mihaljević, and according to doctors, the first infected patient has been reported on 26 August. The latter is known that has been in contact with an infected French tourist. But for other patients, the initial root of their infection is still unknown.

“It is still unknown if the patients have been vaccinated. We know one person hasn’t, but we weren’t able to identify whether the others have been vaccinated or not, or if they have received the right amount of the vaccine,” said doctor Sanja Zember from the clinic.

Doctors said among patients there was no child the youngest patient is 24 years old and the oldest one was born in 1966.

Zember said that upon arrival of the patients, the competent services and the Public Health Institute were immediately notified and none of the patients had developed a serious form of the disease and complications involving brain inflammation or pneumonia.

The role of social media

Speaking to EURACTIV.com on the sidelines of the Global Vaccination Summit in Brussels, Dr Seth Berkley of GAVI global vaccine alliance emphasised the role of social media in tackling anti-vaccination fake news.

“Literally, misinformation can move at the speed of light. So, if you’re a mother that is concerned, is this vaccine good? Should I take it or not? And you go on the internet, you can end up with an anti-vaccine site, at a site across the world, and you don’t have any way to know is that good information is that bad information,” he said.

Dr Berkley, who is an epidemiologist, highlighted the role of social media not only in combating misinformation but in simultaneously promoting the fact-based websites.

“If you take off the misinformation, when somebody looks on the internet it’s because they want information. Can we direct them to sites that have reliable information,” he added.

Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it would direct users searching for information or using vaccine hashtags to web pages set up by public health bodies.

See the full interview in the following video:

[Editesd by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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