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Measles cases reach record high across Europe

Over 41,000 children and adults in Europe have been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018.

Image: Shutterstock/adriaticfoto

THE RATE OF measles infections across Europe has reached a record high.

That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which said today that over 41 000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018.

It said that the total number for this period far exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade.

So far, the highest annual total for measles cases between 2010 and 2017 was 23 927 for 2017, and the lowest was 5273 for 2016. Monthly country reports also indicate that at least 37 people have died due to measles so far this year.

Earlier this month, a warning was issued by the HSE  after five more people contracted measles in Dublin. This followed on from two adults and two children contracting the illness at the start of August.

People at increased risk of getting measles are those who are not fully vaccinated with two doses of MMR vaccine or who have not had measles in the past.

The WHO is calling on countries to impress on people the importance of immunisation.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunisation, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments.

1,000 infections

Seven countries in Europe and the WHO European region have seen over 1000 infections in children and adults this year (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine).

The WHO said that Ukraine has been the hardest hit, with over 23,000 people affected. Measles-related deaths have been reported in all of these countries, with Serbia reporting the highest number of 14.

In addition, according to the latest assessment by the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC), released today, 43 of the Region’s 53 Member States have interrupted the endemic spread of measles and 42 have interrupted rubella (based on 2017 reporting).

But the RVC expressed concerns about inadequate disease surveillance and low immunisation coverage in some countries. It concluded that chains of measles transmission continued for more than 12 months in some countries that had interrupted the endemic spread of the disease, reverting their status back to endemic.

“This partial setback demonstrates that every person who is not immune remains vulnerable no matter where they live, and every country must keep pushing to increase coverage and close immunity gaps, even after achieving interrupted or eliminated status,” said Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

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The WHO said that as the measles virus is exceptionally contagiou, to prevent outbreaks, at least 95% immunisation coverage with two doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed every year in every community. Also needed are efforts to reach children, adolescents and adults who missed routine vaccination in the past.

It said that while immunisation coverage with two doses of measles-containing vaccine increased from 88% of eligible children in the region in 2016 to 90% in 2017, large disparities at the local level persist. Some communities report over 95% coverage, and others below 70%.

WHO is working closely with member states on the issues.

“At this midterm juncture for the European Vaccine Action Plan, we must celebrate our achievements while not losing sight of those who are still vulnerable and whose protection requires our urgent and ongoing attention,” concluded Dr Jakab. “We can stop this deadly disease. But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations – and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”

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