Measles outbreaks across Europe show no sign of slowing

Countries in the WHO European Region continue to battle large measles outbreaks that are spreading between countries and to other regions of the world. To date, 24 countries in Region have reported measles cases in 2011.

Outbreak in France exported to other countries

France has experienced the largest outbreak, with 3 749 measles cases officially reported in January and February 2011 – eight people have suffered neurological complications and one person has died due to measles-related pneumonia. The national immunization system is implementing measures to get children vaccinated during the outbreak, including vaccinating infants at nine months of age, in line with WHO recommendations for a measles outbreak, and offering vaccine to all unimmunized and under-immunized people over the age of nine months.

In 2011, epidemiological investigations and genotyping by laboratories confirm that the measles virus has been exported from France to Denmark, Germany, Italy, Romania, the Russian Federation and, most recently, to Belgium. The national surveillance system in Belgium has reported 100 cases of measles so far in 2011. In the hot spot of this outbreak, Ghent, the virus is affecting primarily children younger than one year (and therefore unimmunized) and students of anthroposophic schools (unimmunized due to philosophical beliefs).

Outbreaks throughout the European Region

A measles outbreak is also ongoing in Andalusia, Spain, with more than 400 cases reported during the first two months of 2011. Regular updates on outbreaks from Serbia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia confirm that the disease continues to spread, and this emphasizes the need to strengthen responses in order to control these outbreaks.

WHO/Europe urges Member States to act now

The measles virus spreads very easily and rapidly, and consequently these outbreaks will likely continue as long as there are people who have not been immunized or were not immunized on time, according to the routine immunization schedule. Measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

At the September 2010 session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, Member States unanimously adopted a resolution to renew their commitment and accelerate actions to eliminate measles and rubella in the European Region by 2015. It is crucially important that Member States and WHO/Europe act now on this commitment, in order to stop costly and deadly outbreaks.

WHO urges countries to remain vigilant and to implement timely prevention and control measures, in order to halt the spread of measles within their own borders and prevent measles being exported to other countries – especially those where measles can be extremely deadly, such as in Africa and south-east Asia.

To prevent further exportation and importation of measles, both inside and outside the Region, WHO/Europe encourages health authorities of Member States to advocate for immunization before international travel and to make vaccinations available to travellers.

WHO/Europe reminds Member States to ensure timely case investigation, including sample collection, and to report all measles cases to WHO/Europe.

European Immunization Week

The annual European Immunization Week (EIW), taking place this year from 23 to 30 April, gives communities, health workers, decision-makers and the broad range of stakeholders and partners an opportunity to promote immunization within their country.