An Irish man has died due to complications caused by measles, the country’s health service has said.
The man in his 40s contracted the virus after travelling to Birmingham where he went to hospital before being diagnosed on his return to Ireland.
The area is one of the worst affected in Britain, amid rising rates of the disease in the UK, with the head of the UK Health Security Agency Jenny Harries warning that the outbreak will get substantially worse unless urgent action is taken to raise vaccination rates.
Figures released by the UKHSA show there have been 216 confirmed measles cases and 103 probable cases since October 1 last year in the West Midlands. Muslim communities in the area are being advised there are alternatives available to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine that uses pork derivatives in a bid to help raise vaccination rates.
It is the first confirmed case of measles in Ireland this year after four last year and two in 2022.
The Irish Health Service Executive's Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it had been notified of the death.
Measles is one of the world's most contagious diseases. It can infect nine out of 10 of unvaccinated close contacts of those suffering from the virus.
“HSE public health teams, along with the HSE measles national incident management team, are taking all necessary public health actions in relation to the case,” the Irish HSE said on Wednesday.
“The HSE measles IMT was established in response to a recent rise in measles cases in the UK and Europe.”
The death comes afterthe WHO warned Europe was seeing a 45-fold increase in rates of the disease.
Between January and October last year, there were more than 30,000 measles cases reported in Europe, compared to just 941 cases in the entire 2022.
The increase, which has resulted in 21,000 patients being admitted to hospital and five deaths, threatens progress towards eliminating the disease, the health body said.
Poor vaccination coverage is largely to blame, with the pandemic contributing to missed immunisations among children.
Between 2020 and 2022, more than 1.8 million infants in Europe missed their measles shot, the WHO said.
Countries are attempting to implement catch-up campaigns, with the UK announcing a new effort to get children booked in for their missed MMR vaccines.
Official figures show uptake of the vaccine is at its lowest point in over a decade.
In 2022 and last year, 84.5 per cent of youngsters in England had received both doses of the jab by the time they were five years old. About 92.5 per cent had received one dose.
“Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this potentially dangerous disease,” said Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.
Last week Switzerland's famed hospitality management school, Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne, closed its campus after cases of measles were discovered among students.
“We have been compelled to close the Lausanne campus from February 3 to February 18 inclusive,” the school said on its website.
The university did not reveal how many students were infected by measles, but said they are currently isolated and recovering under medical care.
Early symptoms, which last between four and seven days, include a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks.
A rash develops around seven to 18 days after exposure, usually on the face and upper neck, and spreading over about three days, eventually to the hands and feet.
It usually lasts five to six days before fading.
Possible complications include blindness, encephalitis – which is an infection causing brain swelling and potentially brain damage, severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections and severe breathing problems including pneumonia.
Complications are most common in children under five years old and adults over the age of 30.
According to the WHO, the virus can be transmitted by an infected person from four days before the onset of the rash to four days after the rash erupts.
Treatment is supportive and designed to relieve symptoms and address complications like bacterial infections.