17 more reasons to stop measles outbreaks

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

April 12th, 2017

Gary Finnegan
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‘Measles outbreaks are threatening to derail Europe’s efforts to wipe out a deadly disease’

Consider the misery that comes with the loss of a loved one. What would you do to protect yourself from this horror? What would you give to spare another family such grief?

Since January last year, seventeen families in Romania have endured this pain because of a preventable disease. Many were children – some too young to be vaccinated.

Romania has reported over 3,400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016, according to the World Health Organisation. The majority of cases are concentrated in areas where immunization coverage is especially low.

But Romania is not alone. France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine – and Romania – have reported 474 cases in total this year. This group represents the majority of the 559 cases recorded since the beginning of 2017.

In all of these countries, estimated national immunization coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine is less than 95% – the target required to achieve herd immunity.

Preliminary data for February suggests the number of cases across Europe is rising sharply, with major outbreaks recorded in Italy. By the end of January 2017, Italian authorities had recorded 238 cases of measles and February is likely to be at least as bad. Officials say that the first quarter of the year could see as many measles infections in Italy as the whole of 2016.

Undoing progress?

The WHO’s Regional Office for Europe says outbreaks in seven European countries are threatening progress towards measles elimination. Two-thirds of the Region’s 53 countries have interrupted endemic transmission of measles; however, 14 remain endemic, according to the Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC).

“With steady progress towards elimination over the past two years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”

Measles remains a dangerous and highly infectious disease. The WHO estimates that in 2015, there were 143,200 measles deaths globally. That’s 367 every day – or 15 deaths every hour.

Measles vaccination resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2015 worldwide. Many countries – including the entire American continent – have eliminated measles.