Outbreaks of measles increased 400% in Europe last year, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning the highly contagious virus has regained a foothold due to immunization decline and vaccine supply problems.
Reports of the disease, which can cause inflammation of the brain and pneumonia, reached an all time low in 2016. But the WHO has released new data revealing a sudden rise in measles cases.
More than 20,000 cases of measles, for which there is no specific medication, were documented in Europe during 2017. The countries worst affected were Romania, with 5,562 new cases, along with Italy and Ukraine, which experienced a combined total of 9,773 potentially fatal measles reports.
“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
“Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept,” she said. Interruptions to vaccine supplies and a fall in overall immunization is blamed for the sharp increase. A UN ministerial meeting on the subject is due to take place in Montenegro on Tuesday.
“Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related sustainable development goals,” Dr Jakab added.
“This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all.”