There is a major public health crisis in the US. Turn on CNN and you’ll learn that the measles rate in the US is at its highest in 20 years.
This is a genuine problem – and a real shame given that the Americas have had measles under control for more than a decade. Doctors and families are, quite rightly, scrambling to ensure that everyone is vaccinated.
But watching this from Europe, what strikes me is the lack of outcry about Europe’s ongoing measles crisis.
The US reported 288 cases from January to late May. It is being discussed on TV and in newspapers – they want to know how it happened and what can be done to contain the virus. Even late-night comedians are taking an interest, a sure sign that this topic has become part of the national conversation.
Meanwhile, Europe has had several consecutive years where tens of thousands of people have had measles – including a small number who died from this vaccine-preventable illness – and the media has generally glossed over it.
Sometimes I think the only measles-free zones in Europe are newspaper front pages.
In 2010 there were more than 32,000 measles cases in Europe. In fact, I’m rounding down by a number greater than the total number of cases reported in the US. More recent figures are a relatively encouraging but we’re still looking at around 10,000 people suffering from measles.
On average of the past five years, we have had 100 times the number of cases currently making headlines in the US.
The fact that Europe trails the world in terms of measles control is a problem for everyone. In the US, 97% of this year’s cases are known to have been imported. The source of infection in the other cases could not be traced back.
Around half of the total 288 infections in the US were traced by to the Philippines where thousands of cases have been reported since October 2013. But, inevitably, some people sitting at home or in hospital in the US right now picked up measles while in Europe or were infected by someone who travelled from Europe.
Again, this is not to make light of a disturbing trend seen on the other side of the Atlantic. They are right to be concerned and let’s hope that their vigilance is rewarded.
Rather it makes me wonder what it would take for Europeans to become agitated by the routine outbreaks seen across our continent.
Perhaps some peer pressure from our friends in the Americas is what will be required.