Swiss recommend soccer fans, teams to get measles vaccination for Euro 2008
29 February 2008
GENEVA – Soccer fans and players should take precautions against measles before coming to Switzerland for the European Championship in June, authorities said Thursday.
The highly contagious disease has infected more than 420 people this year in the Alpine nation, which is co-hosting with Austria the soccer event that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of fans and tourists.
“We recommend that those who are not immunized, including the Swiss, get vaccinated,” said Jean-Louis Zuercher, a spokesman with the Federal Office of Public Health. Players and teams should also check their vaccine status and get a shot if necessary, he said.
Measles, once a scourge of children in Europe, has become extremely rare in recent decades as a result of vaccination programs.
But a fear of side-effects has led some parents to refuse immunization for their children, a reluctance that Swiss officials blame for an epidemic that began two years ago and infected 1,081 people in 2007.
Dr. Peter Strebel, of the World Health Organization, said there is a risk the disease might spread to thousands of soccer fans and teams who come for the 15 international games Switzerland will host during the Euro 2008.
“There are some studies that have shown transmission in settings like that,” he said.
Measles symptoms include high fever, coughing and red skin spots. The fatality rate is low in developed countries, but higher in underdeveloped nations with poor health care.
The disease spreads very easily, jumping from person to person through droplets emitted in sneezing or coughing. But a person becomes immune once infected with the virus or, of course, through vaccination.
Switzerland, one of the world’s richest and most developed nations, has a surprisingly low immunization rate of only 86%. France, Italy and Portugal – which all are sending teams and thousands of fans to Switzerland – also have coverage of less than 95%, which is the national immunization rate recommended by the UN health body.
Strebel said the risk of transmission is higher “when a lot of people, especially from different countries, come together and live in accommodation where they may be close to each other, as well as in locker rooms, dressing rooms and in stadiums.”
He said he was concerned that the current Swiss epidemic was continuing, especially as the country shares a border with so many others.
European soccer body UEFA, which is organizing the tournament said it was “concerned about this measles epidemic with regard to players and other members of the national associations’ delegations.”
UEFA will tell team doctors at a meeting in Vienna next month that unvaccinated players and staff should be protected against the virus, the Swiss-based body said in an e-mailed statement.
Zuercher said the same should be recommended of fans.
But, he added, it would be unthinkable to bar soccer fans from entering Switzerland for lack of vaccination.
[Copyright ap 2008]