The human faces of Europe’s measles epidemics

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

May 15th, 2012

Editorial Board

MeaslesOne in four people who contracted measles in Europe in recent years have been hospitalised, according to a new video report broadcast on Euronews.

The short film, supported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), looks at some of the personal stories behind Europe’s shocking measles statistics.

More than 30,000 people contracted the disease in Europe last year – a four-fold increase on 2009 – with eight patients dying from measles-related complication.

Six of those deaths were recorded in France which has seen an explosion in measles infections in recent years, largely among subsections of the population who have not been fully vaccinated.

The stories behind the science

For Nastasia, a 16-year-old from Valence in France, measles has had a permanent impact. She was hospitalised and diagnosed with encephalitis.

She and her mother feature in the film, discussing the impact of measles and the decisions parents make with regard to vaccination. Nastasia was in a coma for 12 days and it took her four months to recover.

Even now, she says she still has urinary problems because of the paralysis she suffered and all of her muscles shrunk during the illness.

We also hear the story of Max who developed measles when he was six years old. His parents explain how he recovered from the short-term effects but, ten years later, he developed a rare fatal neurological condition as a result of the earlier measles infection.

Now aged 18, Max is in a persistent vegetative state and his condition is terminal. His mother speaks of her anger when she hears of other parents deliberately opting out of vaccination.

The curse of complacency

Two doses of measles vaccine are recommended by the World Health Organisation, the ECDC, national health authorities and professional medical bodies. 

Pierluigi Lopalco head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at the ECDC said vaccination can protect healthy people from serious illness and also helps to protect those in the community who cannot be immunisation.

“If 95% of the population is vaccinated, the remaining five percent who for whatever reasons cannot be vaccinated, like for example the newborn and immuno-depressed subjects, can be protected.”

The rise of measles in Europe has been attributed in part to complacency and to the fact that the public – and health professionals – see the disease much less often than in the past.

The Euronews report highlights the reality that measles can be life-threatening and, in rare cases, fatal. Despite being a vaccine-preventable disease, the goal to eliminate measles in Europe by 2015 continues to look like a major challenge.


Vaccination Café – Measles: Battling Complacency in Europe