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LAHORE, April 23: Preventive measures against measles are required to be disseminated among masses at a large scale in order to gear up awareness drive against the disease.

These views were expressed by health experts during a seminar on measles held here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on Tuesday.

The seminar was organised by UHS in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital and Directorate General Health Services, Punjab.

Addressing the seminar, Children’s Hospital Dean Prof Dr Tahir Masood Ahmad said: “Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It is transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing and is characterised by peculiar rashes, fever and at least one of cough, runny nose (coryza) or red eyes (conjunctivitis).”

He said efforts to avoid secondary infection and limit spread of disease were important in measles management. “People with measles can spread the disease to others four days before the rash starts (before they know they have the disease), to four days after the rash begins.”

He said two doses of measles vaccine are must to get life-long protection against the disease.

Prof Tahir emphasised the need to maintain cold chain properly to store the vaccines in specified temperature as they rapidly lose potency when exposed to heat after reconstitution.

Lahore Medical and Dental College’s professor of preventive paediatrics Prof Shakila Zaman said measles had been one of the most devastating infectious diseases and caused millions of deaths worldwide each year before the introduction of vaccine.

She said in 2011, the number of deaths reported globally was 158,000, out of which 95 per cent deaths occurred in low-income countries.

Prof Shakila said measles vaccination resulted in 71 per cent drop in deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2011. “In 60 to 80 per cent children, the disease is uncomplicated and clinical recovery begins soon after the appearance of rash. However, in 10 to 40 per cent cases, complication may occur in the form of pneumonia, mouth ulcer, diarrhoea and eye diseases.”

She said infants become susceptible to measles virus infection when passively acquired maternal antibody is lost. Infants born to women with vaccine-induced immunity become susceptible to measles at a younger age than those born to women with naturally acquired immunity.

Highlighting the critical link between vitamin A deficiency and measles, she said it had been proved that vitamin A doses reduced mortalities from measles. Director CDC/Surveillance, Punjab Health Services, Dr Mubashir Malik said in 2011, there were only 59 cases; last year 468 and this year there have been 2,831 cases of measles reported in Lahore till April 15.

He said the Punjab government provided free of cost vaccination but primary responsibility lay with parents to ensure vaccination of their children.

He emphasised that suspected cases of measles should be reported immediately to the health officials and all such reports should be investigated promptly.

UHS Vice-Chancellor Prof Muhammad Aslam said continued research on biological, operational and programmatic aspects of measles epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and prevention would be crucial for furthering the goal of measles eradication.

Prof Aslam said medical experts from health institutions of Punjab would gather at UHS by the end of this month to devise a policy to combat the epidemic of measles.