In the face of threats by the Health Ministry to fine or even jail parents in the West Bank settlement of Itamar who fail to vaccinate their children against measles, residents who had failed to do so have begun having the children inoculated, sources said.
The ministry threatened to invoke a little-used legal provision that permits it to impose the punishments in areas where there is an outbreak of contagious disease. In recent weeks, six patients have been diagnosed with measles in Itamar, a settlement in the northern West Bank near Nablus. The ministry warning was first reported by the Israel Hayom daily.
A ministry letter from last week noted the large number of measles cases in Itamar considering that it is a community of just 1,200 residents and said the community has apparently had a large number of people who were totally opposed to vaccinations. The letter demanded that residents of the settlement between the ages of three months and 18 years be inoculated immediately. The law authorizing punishment for refusal has only been invoked twice.
Fifty-four cases of measles have been reported so far in Israel this year. It is a serious, highly contagious illness caused by a virus that is passed directly from one person to another. Symptoms include a rash, runny nose, sore threat and bloodshot eyes. In one in 1,000 cases it can result in death. The risk that patients who have not been vaccinated and are exposed to measles will be infected is about 90 percent.
The illness can cause serious complications to the respiratory and nervous system. About a third of those infected develop complications that can include diarrhea and corneal infections. Rarer complications include pneumonia and encephalitis. In very rare cases, a decade after the initial infection, patients can develop irreversible degeneration to the brain. The risk of complications is higher in children under 5 and adults over 20 as well as those with compromised immune systems.