Measles outbreaks across Europe, 2016-2017. Graphic: Steven Salzberg / Genomics, Medicine, and Pseudoscience

By James Gallagher
11 July 2017

(BBC News) – Thirty-five people have died in the past year from measles outbreaks across Europe, the World Health Organization has warned.

It described the deaths - which can be prevented with vaccination - as an "unacceptable tragedy".

A six-year-old boy in Italy was the latest to die from the infection. More than 3,300 measles cases have been recorded in the country.

The most fatalities - 31 - have been in Romania.

But there have also been deaths in Germany and Portugal since June 2016.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, said: "Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy.

"We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared.

"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." […]

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni blamed a decrease in vaccinations in part on a "spread of anti-scientific theories".

A lingering false belief that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab causes autism is largely to blame, despite the claims being disproven and the doctor who made them being struck off. [more]

Measles 'tragedy' kills 35 across Europe


(CNN) Thirty-five people have died of measles across Europe in the past 12 months, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, warning that vaccination remains crucial to stopping the spread.

In the most recent case, a 6-year-old died in Italy on June 22. The boy's doctor confirmed that he had not been vaccinated against measles and died of the disease.

Another measles death and over 3,300 cases of measles have been reported in Italy alone since June 2016.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported that cases of measles in Europe have jumped by 50% in just the first five months of 2017, compared with the total number of measles cases during all of 2016.

There has been a particularly large increase in measles cases in Italy: 3,232 cases from January through June this year, compared with 478 in the same time period last year.

"Italy has had suboptimal (vaccine) coverage for many years now," said Dr. Rob Butler, program manager of the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. He added that vaccine coverage for measles in Italy has fallen every year since 2012.

Butler said this is in part due to the rise of anti-vaccine movements across Europe and a sense of complacency among parents.

The disease is not confined to Italy. In the past 12 months, Romania has reported 31 measles deaths, the most in Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports that from June 2016 to May 2017, Romania had 3,922 measles cases, making up 42% of all European cases.

Last week, the Romanian Ministry of Health said that the measles outbreak is under control and that there is enough vaccine to cover the population. Romania has also implemented broad vaccination campaigns, though much of the population lives in areas that are hard to reach. [more]

Measles still spreading in Europe, WHO warns, with 35 deaths over past year


Copenhagen, 11 July 2017 (World Health Organization) – Ongoing measles outbreaks in the WHO European Region have caused 35 deaths in the past 12 months. The most recent fatality was a 6-year-old boy in Italy, where over 3300 measles cases and 2 deaths have occurred since June 2016. Several other countries have also reported outbreaks; according to national public health authorities, these have caused 31 deaths in Romania, 1 death in Germany and another in Portugal.

“Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared. Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population.”

The Region has been progressing towards measles elimination. A total of 37 countries have interrupted endemic transmission, according to the assessment of the Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination based on 2015 reporting. However, remaining pockets of low immunization coverage allow the highly contagious virus to spread among those who choose not to vaccinate, do not have equitable access to vaccines or cannot be protected through vaccination due to underlying health conditions.

In response, several countries are adopting measures, such as school-entry checks, to increase coverage rates for routine vaccinations against measles and other diseases. WHO recommends that every eligible child receive 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine. It also encourages adults who are not fully immunized, or who are not sure of their immunity status, to get vaccinated.

In line with the Regional Director’s call for intensified efforts, Romania conducted a nationwide campaign of enhanced routine immunization activities. Italy implemented outbreak control measures including notifying suspected cases, tracing contacts and offering post-exposure prophylaxis and vaccination.

On 21 June 2017 in Rome, Italy, experts from the WHO Regional Office for Europe contributed to a consultation with regional public health officials, representatives of the Italian Institute of Health (ISS), and measles and rubella laboratory officials. Together they decided on further strategies to improve vaccination coverage among adolescents, adults, vulnerable population groups and health-care workers. The range of identified activities includes strengthening disease surveillance and communication practices.

Measles continues to spread and take lives in Europe

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