Measles is spreading across Europe according to The World Health Organization. The largest outbreaks are reportedly being seen in Italy and Romania.
BBC reports that in the first month of this year, Italy reported more than 200 cases whereas Romania has reported more than 3,400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016.
The WHO is appealing to the general public to vaccinate children. For good protection, it is recommended that at least 95% of the population is vaccinated against the disease but apparently many countries are struggling to achieve this level.
More cases of measles are being seen in countries where immunisation has dropped below this threshold, such as France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine. Preliminary information for February suggests that the number of new infections is rising sharply, says the WHO.
Measles is highly contagious and travel patterns mean no person or country is beyond its reach, says the WHO.
WHO regional director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab said: “I urge all endemic countries to take urgent measures to stop transmission of measles within their borders, and all countries that have already achieved this to keep up their guard and sustain high immunisation coverage.”
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says that between 1 February 2016 and 31 January 2017 the UK reported 575 cases of measles.
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is available free of charge locally for babies and pre-school children.
Why is immunisation dropping?
Robb Butler, of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, says there are a number of reasons why vaccination coverage has waned in some regions.
“In some countries, like the Ukaraine, there have been supply and procurement issues.”
Then there’s vaccine hesitancy. Some people are fearful of vaccination, while others are complacent or find it an inconvenience, he says.
In France, for example, people need to make an appointment with their doctor to get a prescription, go to the pharmacy to collect the vaccine and then rebook with their doctor to have the jab administered.
Measles – symptoms and risk factors
- Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death
- Measles is spread by direct contact and through the air by coughs and sneezes
- The virus remains active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to two hours
- The first signs of infection are usually a high fever and cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose
- You may notice small white spots on the inside of the cheeks as well
- After several days, a rash develops, usually on the face and neck first and then spreading to the body and limbs
- An infected person can pass on the virus to others from four days prior to developing the skin rash to four days after the rash erupts;
- There is no treatment, but two doses of vaccine can prevent infection in the first place