More people in Europe contracted measles in the first six months of 2018 than in all of last year. The World Health Organization says more than 41,000 measles cases were reported in the region during the first half of the year. The previous highest annual total was 23,927 cases in 2017. Half the cases in Europe occurred in Ukraine, while France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia and Serbia reported more than 1,000 infections each.
More cases in any country means more cases can be spread by travelers. Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said, “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease.”
Measles is one of the most highly contagious viruses known. It spreads in the air and can spread rapidly among people who have not been vaccinated. Symptoms of measles generally begin a week to 14 days after someone is infected and may include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. In rare cases, people can develop pneumonia, hepatitis, blindness, or encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain inflammation.
Nearly everyone who hasn’t gotten an MMR vaccine will develop an infection if they are exposed to measles. The vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Babies too young for the vaccine are especially at risk. Jakab said, “We can stop this deadly disease. But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations — and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”
Measles was nearly eradicated in the US after the vaccine became widely available in the 1960s, but the refusal to get kids vaccinated on time has led to outbreaks in recent years. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 107 measles cases as of the middle of July this year. In 2012, there were 55 cases in the US.