Measles outbreaks across Europe threaten progress towards elimination
Measles continues to spread within and among European countries, with the potential to cause large outbreaks wherever immunization coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95%.
“With steady progress towards elimination over the past 2 years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
“Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”
Two-thirds of the Region’s 53 countries have interrupted endemic transmission of measles; however, 14 remain endemic, according to the Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC).
559 measles cases were reported in the Region for January 2017. Of these, 474 cases were reported in 7 of the 14 endemic countries (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine).
Preliminary information for February indicates that the number of new infections is sharply rising. In all of these countries, estimated national immunization coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine is less than the 95% threshold.
The largest current measles outbreaks in Europe are taking place in Romania and Italy.
Romania has reported over 3400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016 (as of 10 March 2017). The majority of cases are concentrated in areas where immunization coverage is especially low.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause potentially serious illness. As measles remains endemic in most parts of the world, it can spread to any country, including those that have eliminated the disease.
Every un- or under-immunized person regardless of age is therefore at risk of contracting the disease; this is especially true in those countries where persistently low immunization rates increase the risk of a large outbreak with possible tragic consequences.
In adopting the European Vaccine Action Plan 2015–2020, all 53 Member States of the Region committed to eliminating measles and rubella as one of the Region’s priority immunization goals. ■