The World Health Organization warned of a “worrying” 45-fold increase in measles cases in Europe last year. Health officials warn that measles cases in Europe continue to rise and that “urgent measures” are needed to prevent further spread.
About 42,200 people were infected in 2023, compared to only 941 people during the entire year 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 outbreak.
In the same context, health officials in Britain said last week that an outbreak of highly contagious measles in the West Midlands could spread quickly to other towns and cities with low vaccination rates.
The National Health Service in England indicated that there are more than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 who are unprotected and at risk of contracting the disease.
Millions of parents and caregivers are currently 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. Vaccines are highly effective at protecting against measles, but only 85 percent of children starting primary school in Britain 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 a matter of concern and he stressed that “vaccination is the only way to protect children from this dangerous disease.”
Measles can be a serious illness at any age. Its symptoms often begin with a high fever and rash, which usually goes away within 10 days, but complications can progress to pneumonia, meningitis and blindness.
There are groups of people who are more at risk, including children who are too young to receive the first dose of the vaccine, as well as pregnant women and those who suffer from weak immune systems. During pregnancy, measles can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and the birth of a baby with a low birth weight.
There are calls from all countries in the European region to detect and respond to measles outbreaks quickly, as well as to administer vaccines to more people. The World Health Organization said that measles affected all age groups last year, children and adults alike.
Overall, two out of every five cases of infection were children aged 1-4 years, and one out of every five cases was in adults aged 20 years and over. Between January and October 2023, 20,918 people across Europe were hospitalized due to measles. In two countries, five measles-related deaths were also reported.