The number of recorded measles cases in Europe more than tripled between 2017 and 2018, marking the highest it’s been in a decade, the World Health Organization said. According to newly released data from the WHO, in 2018, more than 82,000 people were infected with the disease and 72 people died in Europe. In 2017, there were more than 25,000 measles cases in Europe and 42 deaths.
“The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade,” WHO said in a statement.
At the same time, the agency said a record number of children are getting vaccinated for the disease — offering hope that the rise in infections may not last.
But the increase of measles cases could be due to a growing number of pockets where parents are refusing vaccination for their children, the WHO added.
“Progress has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, and resulting in a record number of people affected by the virus in 2018,” it said in a statement.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause hearing loss and brain disorders in children, and in severe cases, can kill.
Vaccination coverage needs to be around 95% to prevent the virus from circulating in communities.
The countries with the highest numbers of measles cases in 2018 in the European region included: Ukraine: 52,218 cases; Serbia: 5,075 cases; Israel: 2,919 cases; France: 2,913cases and Italy 2,513 cases
Vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella in Ukraine fell sharply over a number of years during its conflict with Russia and in many countries, anti-vaccine campaigners seek to dissuade parents from getting their children immunized, despite strong scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective.
In Italy, the co-ruling anti-establishment Five Star Movement has questioned the safety of some vaccines and loudly denounced efforts to make vaccinations mandatory.
Heidi Larson, a specialist in vaccines and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the increase in cases was a “wake-up call on the importance of building confidence in vaccination.”