Measles on rise after record low
Last year 21,315 European and Eurasian measles cases were recorded, compared to 5,273 in 2016, which marked a record low, the WHO said.
Measles can kill or cause long-term damage with one in every 1,000 children affected developing encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain and can lead to deafness or learning difficulties.
Ukraine, with 4,767 measles cases, Romania and Italy were the worst affected countries, after declines in routine immunisation, low coverage among some marginalised groups and interruptions in vaccine supply, the report said.
The Copenhagen-based body said large outbreaks of the disease, defined as 100 or more cases, affected 15 of the 53 European or Eurasian countries.
Greece (967), Germany (927), Serbia (702), Tajikistan (649), France (520), Russia (408), Belgium (369), the UK (282), Bulgaria (167), Spain (152), the Czech Republic (146) and Switzerland (105) also experienced large outbreaks, many of which were in decline by the end of the year.
“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director.
The report was released ahead of a ministerial meeting on immunisation in Montenegro this week. “Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related sustainable development goals,” said Jakab. “This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all.”
Measles is highly contagious, spread by coughing, sneezing, personal contact or by contamination with infected mucus. Unvaccinated young children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable.
Confidence in the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and in immunisation generally has been an issue following the discredited claims of UK researcher Andrew Wakefield, who linked the jab to the development of autism.
In the UK, the first dose of MMR vaccine is given to infants when they are a year old and the second, which is more often missed, is given just before children start school at four or five.
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