Measles Cases Soar to Decade High in Europe With 72 Deaths

(Bloomberg) -- Measles cases soared last year in Europe as gaps in vaccinations at a local level left the virus an open door to kill 72 children and adults, the World Health Organization said.

More than 82,000 people in the European region -- an area stretching from Russia to Iceland and south to Malta -- caught measles in 2018, the most infections in the past decade, the agency said in an emailed statement. The highest infection rates were in Eastern Europe and Israel, while France and Italy reported much higher rates than other Western European countries.

The wave of infections came despite record vaccinations across Europe in 2017. Anti-vaccine sentiment among parents in some localities is part of the problem, the WHO said. The challenge mirrors the situation in the U.S., where recent outbreaks occurred in Seattle and New York communities where parents opted against the preventive shots.

“The most important message is to be immunized,” said Dragan Jankovic, a technical officer at the health agency’s European vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization program. “A vaccine is the only way to protect against the disease.”

Also fueling the spread of measles are adults who received only one shot of vaccine, instead of the two routinely given today, and may now need booster shots, Jankovic said. If adults aren’t sure whether they are still immune, another dose of vaccine won’t do them any harm and could help prevent infection, he said.

In the U.S., 79 cases of measles have been reported so far this year -- already one-fifth of last year’s total. Measles cases in the Philippine capital region also surged 10 times at the start of the year, as the government failed to hit its immunization target in 2018.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.