Europe Urged to Vaccinate Against ‘Dramatic’ Measles Spread

(Bloomberg) -- Global health officials called for increased vaccination efforts amid burgeoning rates of measles infection in Europe.

More people in Europe contracted the potentially deadly virus in the first six months of 2018 than in all of last year, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said Monday. The first-half total was more than seven times the cases seen in all of 2016.

Concerns about vaccine-preventable infectious disease are intensifying as immunization rates lag in some areas, and some parents continue to cite concerns about links to side effects that have been debunked by studies. While European childhood vaccination rates increased slightly to 90 percent in 2017, large disparities remain at the local level, according to the WHO.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, the agency’s regional European director, said in a statement. Measles can be stopped if “everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations -- and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”

Europe Urged to Vaccinate Against ‘Dramatic’ Measles Spread

Spread by a highly contagious virus, measles causes a fever, rash and a cough in sufferers, and can cause pneumonia, hepatitis, swelling in the brain, blindness and, rarely, death. Reports from individual European countries suggest that 37 people have died in 2018 from the disease, with 14 of those in Serbia, the WHO said.

About 24,000 cases were reported in Europe last year, and just 5,273 people were infected in 2016. Ukraine recorded the most, with 23,000 so far this year.

At least 107 cases of the disease have been reported in 21 states this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency warned in 2015 that measles might become reestablished as vaccination rates lag in some areas, such as pockets of California. In the U.K., health officials advised people to ensure they were vaccinated after 807 cases were reported through Aug. 6.

Health officials prevent measles with the combined MMR vaccine that also counters mumps and rubella. U.S.-based Merck & Co. began selling the preventive in 1971.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.