Measles outbreak in Europe

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An outbreak of measles is spreading throughout Europe, primarily in countries where immunisation rates have fallen, such as Italy and Romania.

Due to the highly contagious nature of the disease, the World Health Organisation has recommended that at least 95% of the population be vaccinated. However, many countries – including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine – are failing to reach this threshold. It is in these countries that most of the cases have been found. Nevertheless, travel patterns mean that no country is beyond its reach.

In January of this year, Italy reported over 200 cases, whilst Romania has reported nearly 3,500 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016.

The reasons for the drop in immunisations include fear of vaccinations, complacency, inconvenient procurement processes, and supply issues.

How does measles spread?

Measles is a disease spread through direct contact and in the air by coughs and sneezes. It remains active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to two hours. The first symptoms develop around 10 days after infection and include:

  • cold-like symptoms (e.g. a runny nose, sneezing and a cough)
  • sore, red eyes
  • light-sensitivity
  • a fever
  • small white spots on the inside of the cheeks.

Measles poses the greatest threat to unvaccinated young children. However, Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England has stated that, “Individuals of any age who have not received two doses of the MMR vaccine, or those who are unsure, should speak to their GP – it’s never too late to have the vaccine and measles can still be serious in adults.”