Measles cases are blazing in Europe. The disease resurfaced in four countries, including the United Kingdom, where it was considered eliminated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which called Thursday, August 29 to intensify immunization.
A total of 89,994 cases were identified by WHO in 48 European countries in the first half of 2019, more than double the same period last year (44,175), and already higher than for the whole year 2018 (84,462).
"The resumption of measles transmission is a worrying problem," warns Günter Pfaff, chairman of the regional measles and rubella elimination control commission. "If we fail to establish and maintain high immunization coverage in each community, children and adults will suffer unnecessary suffering, and some will be tragically killed."
Countries with high immunization coverage
According to the 2018 figures, the disease is no longer considered "eliminated" in the United Kingdom, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania. According to the WHO, the status of "elimination" corresponds to the absence of continuous transmission for 12 months in a particular geographical area.
In the United Kingdom, for example, 953 cases were reported in 2018 (489 were reported since 1 January 2019), while 2 193 were reported in Greece (compared to 28 from the beginning of this year), 1466 in Albania (475) and 217 in the Czech Republic (569).
"Each of these countries is an example of extremely high national immunization coverage," says Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO Vaccination Department. "So these are not examples of countries whose (health) systems are particularly weak."
"I think it is a wake-up call for the world: it is not enough to achieve high national coverage, it must be done in every community and every family," she adds.
The truth is, #VaccinesWork.
Smallpox has been successfully vaccinated, and vaccines have been brought to the brink of eradicating polio. Rates of many other diseases have been dramatically reduced thanks to the life-saving power of vaccines. pic.twitter.com/xrE518HHwS
20 million deaths prevented by the vaccine
Measles, extremely contagious and can lead to serious complications, sometimes fatal (37 cases in Europe in the first half and 74 in 2018), is usually transmitted by direct contact or through the air, infecting the respiratory tract, then spreading to all the body.
In Europe, in 60% of the cases, the affected people are under 19 years old.
In the first half of 2019, 78% of measles cases were recorded in four contagion outbreaks: Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, which alone accounts for 60% of cases.
The disease is declared eliminated in 35 of the 53 countries that includes the region (they were 37 in 2017). It is endemic in 12 countries, including France and Germany, where vaccination will become mandatory from March 2020.
Austria and Switzerland, good pupils, reach the status of "elimination" after having "demonstrated the interruption of continuous transmission for at least 36 months".
There is no cure for measles, but it can be prevented by two doses of a vaccine. WHO estimates that more than 20 million deaths are prevented worldwide between 2000 and 2016 through vaccination.
DR Congo, Madagascar, Ukraine ...
Globally, the number of reported cases has tripled between the period from 1 January to 31 July 2018 (129,239) and the first seven months of this year (364,808).
The most numerous cases were registered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine. The United States has reported the highest number of measles cases in 25 years.
But the scale of the epidemic would be much larger than official statistics, with the WHO estimating that less than one in ten cases are reported worldwide.
The UN specialized agency estimates that there are in fact about 6.7 million deaths each year related to measles, said Kate O'Brien.
The reasons for the resurgence of measles around the world are linked to poor access to care, or to mistrust of vaccines. The disease was in decline until 2016.
This upsurge comes as vaccine mistrust develops, with "anti-vax" claiming that there is a link between the measles vaccine and autism. More than once, the WHO has denied this theory, based on a falsified study #AFP pic.twitter.com/qYCy8lDe88Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) August 29, 2019
"Anti-vax", mainly in Western countries, is based on a falsified study that links the measles vaccine to autism. The theory denied by the WHO.