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Measles outbreak in Europe shows no signs of slowing

 

A deadly outbreak of measles is continuing its alarming spread throughout Europe and shows no signs of slowing down, experts have warned. 

Across the continent, 35 people have died from the contagious infection in the past year – despite it being preventable with a vaccine. 

The figures, released by the World Health Organization, come after numerous public health authorities’ have set-up initiatives to boost immunization rates in affected countries.

The most recent fatality was a six-year-old boy in Italy, where more than 3,300 measles cases and two deaths have occurred in 12 months.

Romania, which is known to have a low immunization rate, has reported the majority of the ‘tragedies’ with 31 people having succumbed to measles.

Solitary deaths have been recorded in Germany and Portugal, while several other countries have also reported outbreaks.  

Cases of measles have tripled in Italy so far this year, while Romania has also recorded an outbreak, figures show

Cases of measles have tripled in Italy so far this year, while Romania has also recorded an outbreak, figures show

Cases of measles have tripled in Italy so far this year, while Romania has also recorded an outbreak, figures show

‘Unacceptable tragedy’

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, spoke of her ‘concern’ towards the epidemic. She said: ‘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.’  

More than 7,200 people in Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest country have contracted the illness since late 2016. 

The respiratory disease, characterised by high fever and small red spots, usually triggers only mild symptoms. 

Increase in cases 

France, Poland, Switzerland and Ukraine, which are all deemed endemic, have also reported an increase in cases since last year. 

In response to the outbreak, several countries have adopted measures to increase vaccination coverage against measles.

Germany passed a law in May to make kindergartens inform authorities when parents refuse to allow their children the jab.

WHAT IS MEASLES?

Measles is a contagious respiratory infection.

It is spread by droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing.

Sufferers get an outbreak of itchy red blotches all over their body around two weeks after exposure.

They also get a cough, sore throat, and a fever.

Patients can take vitamin A and over-the-counter medications to treat the virus until it goes away.

The best form of treatment is a preventative vaccine.

Years after infection, measles sufferers can develop an always-fatal neurological disorder called SSPE.

It targets the central nervous system.

Health Minister Hermann Gröhe said the move to improve vaccination rates was necessary because of the measles epidemic.

Romania also launched a campaign to encourage people to seek the vaccination, while Italy implemented a series of control measures.

Recommendations 

The WHO recommends that 95 per cent of two year olds are given the jab to contain any outbreaks, with it being one of the leading causes of death among young children globally. 

But according to Italian data revealed in March, only 85 per cent of those youngsters were given the jab in 2015.

In Romania, due not only to poverty but also a lack of vaccines and poor access to health care, the rate is only 80 per cent for the first shot and 50 per cent for the second.

The Romanian government is currently pushing through legislation that would make vaccination obligatory in order for children to be allowed to go to school.

Scare stories 

Health officials believe many parents avoid getting their children vaccinated due to scare stories surrounding a link to autism.

The association was first suggested by a British researcher, Andrew Wakefield, in a 1998 paper for medical journal The Lancet.

However, it was subsequently found to have been falsified and the paper was withdrawn in 2010.

Dr Wakefield was barred from practising medicine. Numerous major studies since have found no evidence of a link.

 

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