The number of measles cases in the Dutch Bible belt rose by 40% in the first week of July prompting authorities to roll-out target vaccination campaigns.
There are concerns that the outbreak could worsen significantly given the low levels of immunisation in fundamentalist Protestant communities in the Netherlands.
The public health authority, RIVM, also fears that while the official figures put the number of cases at 230, this may be an underestimate because not everyone infected has made contact with a doctor.
Six children and one adult have been hospitalised after measles infections, with the epidemic causing disruption to several primary and secondary schools. The Dutch Health Ministry said that while most children will make a full recovery, around 1 in 1,000 cases of measles prove fatal.
While immunisation rates are generally good in the Netherlands, fundamentalist Christian groups opt out of childhood vaccination programmes on religious grounds. This means that when an outbreak occurs it can spread rapidly through the community. The disease is highly infectious and can be spread by coughing and sneezing.
The Dutch Minister for Health has announced that children at heightened risk of infection will be offered an additional dose of the measles vaccine.
Children aged 6 to 14 months who live in areas where less than 90% of children have been vaccinated will be invited to have the vaccine in mid-July. Children in that age group who belong to orthodox Protestant churches, irrespective of where they live, will also be offered the vaccine.
Parents of children aged between one and four years who have not been vaccinated as part of the National Vaccination Programme, ware being asked to contact their local Children’s Health Clinic. Parents with children aged between four and 18 years can contact a healthcare centre, according to the Ministry of Health.
A shared problem
The latest Dutch outbreak comes hot on the heels of a major epidemic in Wales in the UK. Welsh authorities say a rapid vaccination catch-up campaign has helped stem the outbreak but, with 8,000 measles cases in Europe over the past 12 months – mostly in France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom – efforts to eliminate the disease are in jeopardy.