Intended for healthcare professionals


Measles: Europe sees record number of cases and 37 deaths so far this year

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 20 August 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3596
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. BMJ

More than 41 000 children and adults across Europe have been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018 and at least 37 people have died, show figures from the World Health Organization.1

The number of measles cases seen this year far exceeds the annual totals for every year this decade, which was highest in 2017 when there were 23 927 cases and lowest in 2016 when there were 5273.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe. “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunisation, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our sustainable development goal commitments.”

Seven countries in the region have seen over 1000 cases in children and adults this year—France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine—with deaths recorded in all of these countries. Ukraine has been the hardest hit with over 23 000 cases and Serbia has seen the most deaths. The UK has recorded 760 measles cases so far this year.

Figures from WHO from 2017 show that 43 out of the European region’s 53 member states have interrupted the endemic spread of measles and 42 have interrupted rubella.2

But the commission for measles and rubella elimination is concerned about the quality of disease surveillance and low immunisation coverage in some countries. It said that chains of measles transmission continued for more than 12 months in some countries that were no longer endemic for the disease, reverting the country’s status back to endemic.

Around 95% of eligible children need to be immunised with two doses of measles vaccine to prevent outbreaks. Across the region vaccine coverage reached 90% in 2017, up from 88% in 2016. But there are large disparities at local level with coverage ranging from over 95% to below 70%.

Jakab said: “We can stop this deadly disease. But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunise their children, themselves, their patients, their populations—and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”

Commenting on the figures, Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “We have seen a number of measles outbreaks in England which are linked to ongoing large outbreaks in Europe. The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) when they were children. Anyone who missed out in the past or is unsure should contact their GP. We would encourage people to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine before travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks, heading to large gatherings such as festivals, or before starting university.”


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