Mapping the impact of measles outbreaks

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

October 30th, 2013

Gary Finnegan

‘Epidemics increase awareness of diseases locally but have minimal impact on neighbouring countries, particularly where there are language barriers.’

We’ve posted before about the

Take the measles

By the end of the epidemic, uptake rates for the MMR vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella – had hit the target of 95% for young children (although it was actually

But it seems that this effect may be local and temporary. If we take online searchers for measles information as sign of public interest in the disease, we can visualise the effect of an outbreak.

This map from Google Trends shows the surge in the number of people searching for information about measles.

While measles was a hot topic in the UK in April, it made no impact in France or Germany. This is partly a matter of geography and partly one of language.

There was some spill-over from the UK outbreak into public concern in Ireland, where the public is broadly English-speaking and consumes some British media – particularly television and the high-circulation London-based newspapers.

Traveling from France to the UK takes no longer than getting from Ireland to the UK so it is clear that geographical proximity may be less important than cultural proximity. The fact that searches for measles rose in the US during the UK outbreak confirms this.

Within the UK, interest was – naturally enough – strongest near Wales, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Clearly the outbreaks seen in France in 2011 were not enough to encourage their British neighbours to make sure their vaccines were up to date. And it seems the subsequent outbreak in the UK barely registered across the channel.

The visibility of measles in Wales prompted higher rates of measles vaccination but there were no reports of major increases in immunisation against other vaccine-preventable diseases.

So, yes – outbreaks spur a sudden surge in interest and in immunisation. But the effect is local, disease-specific and short-lived.

The perennial question then is: