Festival-goers and sports fans alerted to need for measles vaccination as cases mount

Copenhagen, 19 July 2011

The WHO European Region continues to struggle with measles outbreaks, with 38 countries reporting more than 12 000 cases to WHO/Europe from January through May 2011. Unless people are immunized, a summer calendar filled with large public events could exacerbate the situation and expose more children and adults to the disease.

Measles, a highly infectious disease, affects people of all ages in the Region, with cases reported in infants (those aged under 12 months) to adults aged over 50 years. The hardest hit groups are infants, children aged 1–4 years and young adults aged 15–29. Children aged under 5 years are at the highest risk for complications, including pneumonia and acute encephalitis, which can lead to death. Nevertheless, five measles-related deaths were reported in adolescents and adults in Europe in 2010 and 2011.

Of the people who receive two doses of the safe, effective measles vaccine, 99% develop immunity to the disease. The measles virus will continue to spread as long as people remain un- or undervaccinated. Consequently, being vaccinated on time, according to countries’ immunization schedules, is vital.

"People often underestimate the risks attached to measles," said WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab. “To prevent further spread and future outbreaks, it is imperative that anyone who is susceptible be fully immunized against measles. Without a collective commitment to immunization, we will continue to see the disease spread and, tragically, we will see more hospitalizations, and possibly deaths, from this vaccine-preventable disease."

Many large public gatherings in the Region have been planned for this summer, including sports competitions and political, religious or cultural gatherings (such as music festivals and World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain). This makes it particularly important for teenagers and young adults travelling to and attending such events to make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations. Intensive contact between large numbers of people at public events can help spread measles, even if the host community has high immunization coverage. An influx of people, including the un- or undervaccinated, can increase the risk of importation, and visitors risk taking the disease back to their home countries.

Vaccination before travel and mass gatherings keeps vaccine-preventable diseases from being either exported to or imported from other countries. WHO/Europe and national public health authorities in Member States therefore urgently recommend that all people, regardless of their travel plans, check with their doctors to make sure that they are immunized against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

For further information, contact:

Dr Rebecca Martin
Programme Manager, Vaccine-preventable Diseases and Immunization
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 16
E-mail: rma@euro.who.int

Ms Viv Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31, +45 22 72 36 91 (mobile)
E-mail: VGE@euro.who.int