Over 41,000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018, with 37 dying from the infection. According to WHO, the total number of measles cases in the first half of this year exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade. Experts have blamed the rise in infections on the drop in the number of people vaccinated.
Measles is highly contagious, and before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, encouraging widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred around every two to three years and caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. The disease is caused by the paramyxovirus family and is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The first symptom tends to be a high fever, which is followed by a runny nose, cough, and then a rash. Measles-related deaths are usually caused by complications associated with the disease.
“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.”
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine can prevent infection, but comprehensively discredited research from 20 years ago that erroneously linked MMR to autism stopped some people from trusting the vaccine.
“The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children,” said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England. “Anyone who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past or are unsure if they had two doses should contact their GP practice to catch up. We would encourage people to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine before travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks, heading to large gatherings such as festivals, or before starting university.”