Second patient dies from measles epidemic in France

A 26-year-old patient has died in France from the measles, the second fatality in a matter of months as an epidemic of the disease sweeps the country and health chiefs warn of the need to be immunised.

Second patient dies from measles epidemic in France
Photo: AFP

French health authorities revealed on Wednesday that a 26-year-old patient had died from the disease, although details of the sex of the victim and the region where they lived have not been revealed.

Health chiefs from French health authority Santé Publique France said the patient's immune system was too weak to be given a vaccine and that they were probably contaminated by someone close to them who had not been vaccinated.

The death comes after a 32-year-old woman died in February in a hospital in the town of Poitiers from the disease, which causes skin rash and flu-like symptoms and can affect people of all ages, despite being considered primarily a childhood illness.

The woman had apparently contracted measles after taking her father to the CHU hospital in Poitiers. In all, there have been 22 deaths caused by measles in France since 2008.

Some 2,567 cases of measles have been identified in France since November with the western and southern departments of Gironde, Vienne and the Gard the most affected. Although the number of news cases has dropped slightly it stands around 50 a week.

To put the figure in context, only 400 cases a year were detected between 2013 and 2015.

Between January and April 2018 half of the 1,800 cases of measles declared in France were in the south west region of Nouvelle Aquitaine, which is by far the region in France the most impacted.

In 88 percent of cases, those who have contracted the disease have not been vaccinated, or completed the course of vaccinations. In 22 percent of cases patients have been hospitalized.

Health authorities in France have been raising the alarm about the need to be vaccinated against the extremely contagious disease.

“The elimination of measles is a top priority for the World Health Organisation… To achieve that it is necessary to reach the goal of vaccinating 95 percent of people at risk,” said Jérôme Salomon from the Ministry of Health.

In France no department in the country has reached the 95 percent vaccination rate, health authorities say.

According to doctors the problem is that many in France – potentially up to one million – did not receive the necessary second injection of the MMR vaccination (Measles Mumps and Rubella). 

“This second dose is necessary for the elimination of the disease because between 7% and 8% of children do not react to the administration of the first vaccine,” doctor Daniel Lévy-Bruhl told Le Monde newspaper.

The people at greatest risk in France are those born after 1980, the year in which cases of the disease dropped dramatically, officials said.

Most of those born before 1980 have probably already had the measles, which used to afflict hundreds of thousands of children each year in France, and are now immune.

Authorities are worried that the rate of vaccinations in the south western Nouvelle-Acquitane region is too low to cope with the epidemic. 

It is believed between 70 and 81 percent of the public are vaccinated in the region.



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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.