Alarming 30-fold rise in measles cases in Europe
There was an “alarming” 30-fold increase in measles cases in Europe last year, the World Health Organization said.
Health chiefs warn that cases are still rising and “urgent measures” are needed to prevent further spread.
More than 30,000 people were infected in 2023, compared to 941 during all of 2022.
The World Health Organization believes this is a result of a decrease in the number of children vaccinated against the disease during the Covid pandemic.
in the UK, Health officials said last week An outbreak of highly contagious measles in the West Midlands could spread quickly to other towns and cities with lower vaccination rates.
More than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 are unprotected and at risk of contracting the disease, according to NHS England.
Millions of parents and caregivers are being contacted and urged to make an appointment to ensure their children are fully vaccinated against measles. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is given in two doses – the first when the child is about one year old and the second when the child is about three years and four months old.
The vaccine is highly effective at protecting against measles, but only 85% of children starting primary school in the UK have had both vaccines.
Speaking about the situation in Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director, said: “In the region, we have seen not only a 30-fold increase in measles cases, but also almost 21,000 hospitalizations and five measles-related deaths.” This is worrying.
“Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this dangerous disease.”
Measles can be a serious illness at any age. The illness often begins with a high fever and rash, which usually goes away within 10 days — but complications can include pneumonia, meningitis, blindness and seizures.
Children who are too young to get the first dose of the vaccine, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk. During pregnancy, measles can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and the birth of a baby with a low birth weight.
All countries in the European region are required to detect and respond quickly to measles outbreaks, as well as administering vaccines to more people.
The World Health Organization said that measles affected all age groups last year, children and adults alike.
Overall, two in five cases were in children aged 1-4 years, and one in five cases were in adults aged 20 years and older.
Between January and October 2023, 20,918 people across Europe were hospitalized with measles. In two countries, five measles-related deaths were also reported.
Impact of the epidemic
Vaccination rates for the first dose of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, fell from 96% in 2019 to 93% in 2022 across Europe. Taking the second dose decreased from 92% to 91% during the same period.
This seemingly slight decline in vaccination rates means that more than 1.8 million children in Europe were not vaccinated against measles during those two years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the performance of the immunization system in this period, leading to an accumulation of unvaccinated and unvaccinated children,” the World Health Organization stated.
With international travel booming again, and social distancing measures removed, the risk of measles spreading across borders and within communities is much greater – especially among under-vaccinated populations.
The World Health Organization has warned that even countries that have achieved measles elimination status are at risk of a large outbreak.
It says 95% of children need to be vaccinated with two doses against measles in all communities to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.
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