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Measles outbreak hits Japanese universities May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.

More than 50,000 university students have been affected by closure of campuses, mainly around the Tokyo area. More than 90 cases have been reported at Nihon University, 3o cases at Waseda, and 16 cases at Sophia, amongst others.

Campuses are being shut down for upto a week to prevent cross-infection on campus.

Why the sudden outbreak of measles amongst university students?

To answer that, we go back to 1988, when the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations began. Prior to that measles and rubella (german measles) vaccinations were carried out separately.

The MMR vaccination regime brought with it an increased number of reported cases of encephalitis, which was attributed to the use of the Urabe-strain used to prepare the mumps vaccine. The MMR triple vaccine was withdrawn in 1993, but in the interim period, many parents decided not to vaccinate their children because of the potential side-effects.

In 1993, measles and rubella vaccinations were reverted to separate vaccinations. In 2006, a Measles-Rubella (MR) double vaccine regime was introduced (with a booster).

MMR vaccinations are usually administered at age 1. So babies who were up for vaccination during the ill-fated MMR regime between 1988 and 1993 will now be between the ages of 15 and 20. The MMR scare only really got going in 1989, so the window is actually more like 4 years, between 1989 and 1993 (age 15-19), with a likely increase in numbers who were not vaccinated as time went on.

This would put around half of the undergraduate population in the high risk group. It is not uncommon for universities (and especially new entrants thereto) to be associated with high incidences of contagious diseases, due to the sudden increase in exposure to people. I remember when I was a university student in the UK, there was a public health awareness campaign around meningitis which saw increased infection rates amongst new university students.

In any case, the current outbreak is directly linked to the botched MMR vaccination regime, and the neglect of the government agencies (specifically the Ministry of Health (MHLW as it is now), which has had more than its fair share of disasters – Fibrinogen/Hep C and Factor 8/HIV being the two most famous) involved in following up with the high risk group until now.

(Litigation regarding the side-effects of the MMR vaccine is on-going, after more than a decade…..)


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