Why is this disease especially dangerous for children

UNICEF warns of a lack of vaccination of children against measles in recent months, which could lead to a serious epidemic that threatens the youngest and most vulnerable in the face of this viral infection.

A situation that puts children at risk. The World Health Organization and UNICEF warned, on Wednesday, of the “alarming increase in measles cases in January and February 2022,” an outbreak of cases that could infect “millions of children,” according to these two organizations. The Covid-19 epidemic has already delayed or prevented the vaccination of children in many countries against this infection, for which there is no antiviral treatment.

The “current conditions” are therefore “particularly conducive to an epidemic measles outbreak, a situation that puts children at risk,” according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, in which an infected person can infect up to 20 people. It is caused by a virus that is easily transmitted through coughing, sneezing and nasal secretions, and can have serious consequences such as damage to the lungs, liver and kidneys, as well as neurological complications such as encephalitis. Most deaths attributed to measles are due to complications of the disease.

“One of the leading causes of death among young children”

The World Health Organization wrote in 2019 that measles “remains one of the leading causes of death in young children, while there is a safe and effective vaccine,” noting that “an estimated 89,780 people, mostly children under the age of five, died of measles in 2016.. Young children who are not immunized are most at risk of developing measles and fatal complications.”

If children are more affected by this virus, it is because, as with other infections, “they are not immune to this disease, they are immune gullible,” explains BFMTV.com, virologist Eric Leroy, director of research and member of the National Academy of Medicine. So their smaller immune system defends itself less effectively against this virus it detects.

On the contrary in France, “adults were vaccinated or received when they were young, so they are immunized,” explains the virologist, because the protection conferred by a disease or a vaccine is very durable.

Brigitte Ferry, liberal pediatrician and president of the National Union of French Pediatricians explains. To curb this contagious disease, since 2018, the French government has included the measles vaccine among the compulsory vaccinations for children under the age of two.

In addition to the effects of the disease itself, “the measles virus weakens the immune system and makes the child more susceptible for several months to other infectious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea,” UNICEF recalls.

“People with comorbidities”

The World Health Organization also notes that severe forms of measles “especially occur in young children who are malnourished, especially if their intake of vitamin A is insufficient or if their immune system is weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.” .

“There are really age groups that are more affected, but also people with comorbidities” or fragility, Eric Leroy replies. In addition to people under the age of one year, those most at risk of developing serious forms of the disease are “pregnant women” and “immunocompromised people”, according to the French Ministry of Health.

If “unvaccinated children are the main target of the virus,” adults will not be spared the disease either, Fabien Cochert, a liberal pediatrician and president of the French Association of Outpatient Pediatrics AFPA, told BFMTV.com. “They can also get measles, which can be dangerous or even fatal” at home, she explained, “If an epidemic breaks out, adults will become infected.”

And “we know that getting a childhood illness when you’re an adult is much more dangerous,” Brigitte Ferry abounds, citing examples from chickenpox and measles.

Update the vaccination schedule.

The only known and highly effective solution against measles today is two-dose vaccination. It is estimated that “the elimination of measles requires a vaccination coverage level of 95% in young children,” the Ministry of Health explained, adding that this level has not been reached in France. In 2018, 79% of children were vaccinated with the two necessary doses. However, about 90% of measles cases occur in unvaccinated people.

“The message that needs to be conveyed is that we must update the vaccination schedule for all children and keep up with delays if vaccinations are not implemented,” says Fabian Kochert, who adds that adults also “can check if they have received two doses” of this vaccine.

If France has been able to maintain the correct vaccination activity for children in parallel with Covid-19, other countries have faced much more difficulty. In 2020, 23 million children (3.7 million more than in 2019) did not receive essential childhood vaccinations as part of routine health services, the highest number since 2009, writes UNICEF, which fears epidemics.

Salome Vincendon BFMTV journalist

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