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A Record Year for Measles Cases in Europe

The WHO reports more than 41,000 cases in the region in the first half of 2018.

Aug 21, 2018
Shawna Williams

ABOVE: WIKIMEDIA, CDC/HEINZ F. EICHENWALD

More than 41,000 people throughout Europe were infected with measles in the first six months of 2018, the World Health Organization announced yesterday (August 20), and at least 37 have died. The number of infections in the region is nearly double that for all of 2017, and is the highest so far this decade, the agency says.

Mark Muscat, the medical officer for vaccine-preventable diseases at WHO Europe, tells The Guardian that the high number of cases “is a reflection of so many children and adolescents who are still susceptible to the disease because they are not vaccinated. . . . This is a disease that could be totally prevented by two doses of MMR vaccine, but we are seeing measles cases across all age groups.”

More than half of this year’s cases—23,000—occured in Ukraine. Other hard-hit countries are France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia, and Serbia, with at least 1,000 cases each. The upper house of Italy’s parliament recently voted to suspend for a year a requirement that all schoolchildren in the country be vaccinated, including against measles. 

According to the WHO, at least a 95 percent immunization rate is needed to protect against outbreaks; the overall rate across the 53 European countries was 90 percent in 2017, but dipped below 70 percent in some communities.

Pauline Paterson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tells the BBC, “With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many, and the numbers of measles cases so far this year is astounding.”

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