After Years of Calm, Measles Cases Spike in Northern Israel

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There has been a significant increase in cases of the measles in northern Israel, according to recent research carried out by Israel's Health Ministry.

The study by the ministry's epidemiology department found 96 cases of measles by the end of May 2012, compared to only four cases of the disease in the same period in 2011, 14 in 2010, and two in 2009.

Some 63 of the cases this year – 65 percent - were reported in the north, while 20 percent were in Tel Aviv – some 20 percent - eight cases in the center of the country, four in Haifa, one in Jerusalem, and one in southern Israel.

The reported increase comes after four years of calm. In contrast to the previous country-wide outbreak, the current spike is concentrated in northern Israeli towns where vaccination rates stand at less than 90 percent, among refugees communities in Tel Aviv, and especially among babies who not yet one-year-old - the minimum vaccination age in Israel.

In light of the outbreak, the Health Ministry is now completing immunization programs among populations that refused to be vaccinated in the past, most of which are from small towns in the north. Family members of those suffering from measles are also eligible for preventative vaccination.

A large part of those who refuse to be vaccinated do so on ideological grounds, also citing possible side effects and exposure to toxins.

The minimum vaccination age for measles will also be reduced to six months among refugee populations, to help curb the outbreak. Vaccinations will also be provided to family members of measles sufferers.

"The Health Ministry also subsidizes vaccinations for refugees who are not covered by Israe'sl national health insurance law, and a vaccination program is being carried out in all day care centers of refugee children," the health ministry said.

According to the preliminary results of a new program which documents vaccination programs among babies in Israeli towns, less than 90 percent of the population are vaccinated in a number of Israeli towns, which raises the risk of outbreak of infectious diseases, such as measles.

Northern Israeli towns with vaccination rates of less than 90 percent include Yodfat, Klil, Beit Keshet, Yesud HaMa'ala, Merom Galil, Harduf, Alonei Abba, Tivon, Binyamina, Pardes Hanna. Low vaccination rates were also found in three southern Bedouin towns - Hura, Tarabin and al-Atrash – and in a number of mainly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Overall vaccination rates in Israel stand at 94 percent. In 2010, the World Health Organization adopted a vaccination rate target of at least 90 percent of the population in countries across the world, and a target of 80 percent rate for initial vaccinations for children. The minimum age for initial vaccinations for children in Israel is one.

Read this article in Hebrew

Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital. Credit: Moti Milrod