Europe saw over 82,000 measles cases in 2018, with 72 deaths across the region according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, 3 times the reported number of cases in 2017 and 15 times the record low total of 2016.
Ukraine saw the largest number of measles cases in Europe out of any one nation- over 53,000 cases reported, 10 times the number of 2017. Serbia (5,076) and Israel (2,919) were the next two highest nations, followed by France (2,913), Italy (2,919), Russia (2,256), Georgia (2,203), Greece (2,193), Albania (1,466) and Romania (1,087). 92% of cases occurred in these 10 nations with the highest number of cases. Only 6 out of 53 countries in the European area had no reported measles cases, though only Tajikistan and Turkmenistan had populations over 400,000 of these nations.
In countries reporting hospitalisation data, 61% of those with measles required hospitalisation.
“The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunization rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of the WHO’s European Regional Office. “We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided.”
The measles outbreak comes despite record high levels of vaccinations in the European area in 2017, the year in which 90% of children received the recommended second dose of the vaccine. According to the WHO, at least 95% of the population need to be immune (through two doses of the vaccine or previous exposure to the virus) to ensure ‘herd immunity’ for the at-risk community- including children too young to be vaccinated and those who cannot be vaccinated for other medical reasons.
Those infected with measles may have secondary complications, affecting their short and long term health. Britain’s National Health Service suggests about 1 in 5 children with measles experience complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhoea and vomiting, meningitis, and eye disorders. There is also evidence to show that measles can lead to long term complications, including blindness, motor deficits and partial paralysis. Long term, measles is believed to reduce the immune system of those infected, making them more prone to opportunistic infections for months to weeks after the infection, with an effect on the immune system that may last for several years. Empirical research has also demonstrated the long-term benefits of measles vaccination in preventing all-cause infectious disease.
A vaccine against measles has existed since the 1960’s and the estimated cost to vaccinate a child is approximately $US 1. The WHO reports an estimated 80% drop in measles related deaths since 2000 due to vaccination, with 21.2 million death presented by measles vaccinations between 2000-2017.
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