Surge in measles cases in Europe

Measles cases in Europe last year were at their highest number this decade, having tripled to 82,596 between 2017 and 2018.

There were 72 deaths from the virus in 2018, jumping from 42 in 2017.

World Health Organisation data shows the Ukraine to have had the highest number of cases last year, which was more than ten times greater than the next highest country, Serbia.

But France, Italy, Greece and Israel have also reported high numbers of measles cases.

More than 90 per cent of the cases reported are in ten countries only.

The WHO says vaccinations rates, while improving, are not high enough to prevent the virus from spreading.

WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab said: “The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunisation rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation.

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“While data indicate exceptionally high immunisation coverage at regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease.

“This means that gaps at local level still offer an open door to the virus.”

In 2018, the Ukraine’s cases shot to 10 times that of the previous year – to 1,209 per one million population – and is thought to be because vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella there fell sharply during its conflict years with Russia.

In 2016, the Ukraine only had a 31 per cent vaccination rate. But vaccination rates have dramatically improved since 2018 and are now reaching the 90 per cent mark.

The Ukraine figures go a long way towards inflating the total number of measles cases in Europe, which jumped from 25,863 in 2017 to more than 82,000 in 2018.

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But the rise in measles in some of the other countries is also worrying.

The top ten measles countries in Europe between January and December 2018 were:

  • Ukraine (53,218)
  • Serbia (5,076)
  • Israel (2,919)
  • France (2,913)
  • Italy (2,517)
  • Russian Federation (2,256)
  • Georgia (2,203)
  • Greece (2,193)
  • Albania (1,466)
  • Romania (1,087)

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom recorded 953 measles cases in 2018.

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