Europe sees a sharp rise in measles cases with 37 reported deaths this year

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The European agency of the World Health Organization reports that more than 41 000 cases of measles have been reported in the first 6 months of 2018, far exceeding the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade. The report also reveals that at least 37 people have died due to measles so far this year.

Previously, the highest annual total of  reported measles cases was 23 927 in 2017 and a year earlier only 5 273 cases were reported.

Seven European countries report over 1000 infections this year, these being France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine. 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.

Measles can be prevented

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus spread in the air by coughing and sneezing. The illness typically begins with a high fever and causes a rash on the face and neck. While most people who are infected with measles will recover, it is one of the leading causes of death among young children.

WHO states that to prevent outbreaks, at least 95% immunization coverage with 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed every year in every community, as well as efforts to reach children, adolescents and adults who have missed routine vaccination in the past. While immunization coverage increased from 88% of eligible children in the Region in 2016 to 90% in 2017, there remains large disparities at the local level with some communities reporting over 95% coverage, while others report coverage below 70%.

In response to the increase of cases of measles, both Italy and Romania have introduced laws requiring parents to vaccinate their children against measles and nine other childhood diseases, with Romania including large fines for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.

Read the WHO report here.