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Measles Outbreaks Continue to Spread and Claims Lives in the US and Abroad

The most recent report from the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that measles outbreaks have resulted in over 14,000 infections, and the loss of 35 lives across Europe since January 2016. The majority of these deaths (31) have occurred in Romania, with the remaining deaths occurring in Italy (2), Germany (1), and Portugal (1). A 6-year-old boy in Italy was the most recent fatality from this preventable disease.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, a total of 15 countries have reported measles cases in 2017: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The goal of complete disease eradication seems to have hit a snag with these small “pockets of low immunization coverage allow[ing] 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,” according to the report.

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab, MD, weighed in on the tragedy of the deaths, stating in the WHO report, “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. 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.”

To combat the outbreaks, European countries are initiating school-entry checks on vaccinations (much like the United States) and, according to the report, in Romania, officials “conducted a nationwide campaign of enhanced routine immunization activities.” In Italy, regional public health officials collaborated with representatives of the Italian Institute of Health (ISS), measles and rubella laboratory officials, as well as experts from WHO Regional Office for Europe to identify activities that are needed to help bolster disease surveillance and communication on the importance of vaccination among the community.

The threat of measles in Europe has increased to the point that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released an advisory reminding travelers to ensure they are properly vaccinated and/or taking preventive precautions before heading to European destinations this summer. Travel health advisories have been issued for 5 European countries: France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Romania.

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