Soldiers in the IDF Medical Corps treat Syrian victims..
(photo credit: COURTESY IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Nine IDF soldiers diagnosed last week with the highly infectious measles disease are all recovering and have returned to duty, the IDF said on Monday.
According to the IDF the soldiers all had mild cases of the disease and did not serve in the same unit.
The index case had just returned from visiting family in the Ukraine where he likely contracted the disease. When he returned to Israel he visited a clinic where he infected eight other soldiers who were waiting in line to see a physician.
“The IDF, together with the Health Ministry, carried out an investigation to locate the cases and identify the source of the infection,” the army said in a statement, adding that all those who had contact with the soldiers were given preventative treatment.
An IDF spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the soldier who contracted the disease had two stopovers in Europe on his way back to Israel from the Ukraine but was not able to specify which countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in March warned of a measles outbreak sweeping across Europe in places where immunization rates have plummeted. The figures cover the agency’s entire European region – 53 countries including Israel, Kazakhstan and Russia.
According to the WHO 559 measles cases were reported in Europe between January and March 2017. While the largest current measles outbreaks in Europe were reported in Romania and Italy, other countries reporting cases were France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the Ukraine.
“With steady progress toward elimination over the past two years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
“Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”
Israeli children are routinely immunized with the MMR vaccine which are given in two doses, at one year and a booster in the first grade. The Health Ministry has stated that the level of vaccine coverage in Israel is among the highest in the West, with 97% coverage for first and second doses MMR and chickenpox vaccine.
While no vaccine is 100% effective, an infectious disease specialist told the Post that measles is “a nasty illness” that is preventable by proper immunization.
But while it is highly recommended by medical professionals and the Health Ministry, the vaccine is not mandatory and according to the IDF the measles vaccine is not part of the vaccines given to new recruits.
“We cannot afford to have soldiers who are severely ill with a highly contagious disease. It would be appropriate for the IDF to verify and update immunizations of all personnel and new recruits,” the infectious disease specialist told the Post
Measles is spread by coughing and sneezing and close contact with infected individuals. While most infected people usually experience only mild symptoms it is one of the leading causes of death among young children globally.
Measles takes about 8-12 days following contact before the individual will show symptoms which include a fever, bad cough, red and a runny nose. A few days after the respiratory symptoms, the infected individual will get a bad rash. Other complications of measles include gastroenteritis (diarrhea and vomiting), pneumonia, severe bleeding problems and in some rare cases encephalitis (brain infections).
In June five cases of measles were reported to the Health Ministry – all of them women between the ages of 20-40 who lived in Jerusalem.