Regional decline in measles with large rubella outbreaks in two countries: epidemiological overview for 2012

The “WHO EpiBrief” released today provides an epidemiological assessment based on surveillance data for selected vaccine-preventable diseases in the WHO European Region for 2012. The report reveals that measles declined by over a third in the European Region last year (with 23 871 cases) compared with the total number of reported cases in 2011. Despite gains in controlling rubella in most countries of the Region, however, outbreaks in Poland and Romania contributed to a more than 200% increase in the total number of rubella cases in the Region in 2012 (with 29 361 cases) compared with 2011, when 9461 cases were reported.

Data for the first two months of 2013, published today in “WHO EpiData” summary tables, indicate that outbreaks of both diseases continue in various parts of the Region. Measles outbreaks have been reported in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and the United Kingdom totalling over 3500 cases in January and February. For the same period, over 4500 cases of rubella have been reported, primarily in Poland. More cases are expected to be reported over the next few weeks as outbreaks persist, but these numbers are, so far, lower than those reported for the same period in 2011 and 2012.

Surveillance data essential for immunization programmes

Surveillance data on vaccine-preventable diseases provide decision-makers with critical information both before vaccine introduction, relating to the existing disease burden and the justification for vaccine introduction, and after vaccine introduction, to monitor the impact of immunization programmes on disease. Countries collect data on several variables, including the number of reported cases, laboratory test results and the vaccination status of patients.

Countries of the European Union and European Economic Area report surveillance data via The European Surveillance System (TESSy), which is maintained by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. All other Member States in the WHO European Region report directly to WHO/Europe through the centralized information system for infectious diseases (CISID). 

Elimination of measles and rubella

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe set 2015 as a target date for the elimination of measles and rubella from the WHO European Region. In addition to achieving and sustaining more than 95% vaccination coverage, one of the key strategies to achieve this goal has been identified as the strengthening of disease surveillance systems.

“WHO EpiData” and “WHO EpiBrief”

WHO/Europe publishes surveillance data on vaccine-preventable diseases as reported by countries in monthly “WHO EpiData” summary tables, which generally feature measles, rubella, invasive bacterial diseases and acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). An overview and analysis of these data over a selected period are provided regularly in “WHO EpiBrief” (formerly “WHO Epidemiological Brief”).

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“WHO EpiBrief” is sent out by e-mail and posted on the WHO/Europe web site. To join the mailing list, write to