World Cup Fever: Brazil fears measles influx

brasil-world-cupMeasles cases have been reported in 26 of the 32 countries that have qualified for the football World Cup but Brazil hasn’t seen a domestic case in years.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) told Vaccines Today that it is urging football fans travelling to Brazil to be vaccinated against measles and rubella.

“Individuals who are not vaccinated against these diseases may be at risk of contracting them when in contact with travellers from countries where these viruses are still circulating,” a spokesperson said.

The last part is telling. You are highly unlikely to catch measles or rubella from a local because Brazil has these diseases under control.

Europe’s problem

Two years ago, when football’s European Championships were held in Poland and the Ukraine, WHO Europe issued measles warnings to football fans.

But this is different. In 2012, the concern was that unvaccinated football fans would catch measles in the Ukraine where authorities were trying to contain a serious epidemic.

This time, the WHO is worried about an influx of infected people to Brazil – a country that has been measles free for over a decade.

In 2012, the WHO wanted to protect football fans from Ukraine; in 2014, they want to protect Brazil from football fans.

For people in Brazil and neighbouring countries, measles has become a disease brought by travellers.

Read: Measles – Europe’s shameful export

Excluding imported cases, the Americas have not seen measles since the last reported case in Venezuela in 2002.

PAHO/WHO asks anyone who develops symptoms of measles or rubella while in Brazil not to visit public places or to travel, avoiding close contact with other people for several days following the onset of the rash.

The fear, obviously, is that a handful of infected individuals could lead to a major outbreak if they mix with other fans in football stadiums and on crowded public transport come to and from football matches.

Countries in the Americas will use the Vaccination Week in the Americas initiative (26 April-3 May) to raise awareness about the importance of immunisation in the context of the World Cup. The 2014 slogan will be ‘Vaccination: your best shot’.

For Europe though, the 2015 elimination target looks like a long shot. We are 2-0 down at half time and need to produce something pretty special to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.