PETALING JAYA - Many parents are underestimating the severity of complications from measles when they refuse vaccination for their children, said a consultant paediatrician.
Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin said measles could cause severe lung infection (pneumonia) and brain inflammation (encephalitis), adding that up to one death per 1,000 cases have been reported.
"And with the refusal of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, it also means there is a potential for an increase in cases of mumps," said Dr Musa who is based in a private hospital here.
He said prior to the inclusion of MMR in the National Immunisation Programme, mumps was the leading cause of viral meningitis and deafness. Mumps viral infection could also lead to sub-fertility in males and miscarriages in females, he said.
Moreover, if not immunised against the rubella virus, women might bear children with congenital rubella syndrome, causing deafness, cataracts, mental retardation and congenital heart disease, he said.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry had reported that measles cases had tripled this year compared with the number of cases in 2013 and more than half of the measles victims last year and this year had not been immunised.
Dr Musa said prior to the MMR second dose being introduced, Malaysia witnessed measles outbreaks every four to five years, but with the inclusion of the second dose at the age six, this had since improved. Two doses of the MMR shots were introduced in 2002.
He expressed concern that most of the recent outbreaks reported in the Klang Valley were largely among those unvaccinated or inadequately immunised (one dose only).
"This has been largely attributed to the refusal of MMR vaccine by mostly professional Malay parents and religious communities, notably Muslims who opted for alternative medicine, namely homeopathy," he said, adding that the trend was also happening in Europe and the United States.
In the US, measles - a vaccine preventable disease - was eliminated in 2000, but due to the increased refusal of measles vaccination, there were at least 648 confirmed cases in the US last year, the most since 1994, he said.
The US Disneyland measles outbreak this year had spread to 19 states and Canada, he added.
Dr Musa said measles was so contagious that 90 per cent of the people near the first identified case could become infected if they were not protected.
"Think carefully before you reject the MMR vaccination, and other vaccines for your children as this may not only harm your own children, but also the susceptible individuals in the community," he said.
The susceptible groups were mainly young children under the age of one, cancer patients, those with HIV/AIDS, those on anti-cancer drugs and/or steroids who cannot be immunised against MMR and rely on protection from the community, he said.
"Vaccination is an utterly selfless act, since by protecting yourself, you are indirectly protecting others around you, which contributes to the herd immunity," he said.