Measles cases continue to surge in Europe and Africa, says UN agency

Child being vaccinated against measles

7 October 2011 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today that several large measles outbreaks have continued to spread in the past six months in Europe and Africa, and to a lesser degree in the Americas.

So far, 40 European countries have recorded 26,025 cases between them since the start of the year. France has been the most affected, with 14,025 cases, and the Government has responded by modifying its vaccination schedule as well as offering vaccines in schools free of charge. Other countries have increased access to and availability of the vaccines.

Of all the European cases, only 11 were fatal, six of them occurring in France and one each in Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.

In Africa, more than 103,000 cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) alone, and although deaths are not routinely notified to the WHO regional office, the agency estimates that there have been 1,100 measles-related deaths in that country this year. In addition, 17,428 cases were reported in Nigeria, 5,397 in Zambia and 2,902 in Ethiopia.

The number of cases is significantly lower in the Americas with Canada being the most affected country with 742. None were fatal. Other countries that presented outbreaks include the United States, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Chile, with most linked to importations from Europe and Africa.

Measles is a highly infectious disease that causes complications and deaths, even in previously-healthy individuals. It remains one of the world’s biggest causes of death among young children, but is fully preventable by vaccination.

In April, WHO urged European countries to work closely to avoid the spread of the outbreak. European Immunization Week kicked off that month in 50 countries, the largest number of participants since the initiative began.

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