Cases of measles across Europe likely to continue rising, EU agency warns

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says low vaccination rates in some countries is a risk

Cases of measles across Europe are likely to continue rising in the coming months due to “suboptimal” vaccination rates among the population in a number of countries, a European Union agency assessment has found.

Data published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that cases of measles rose significantly globally and in Europe last year, including in at least 10 EU/EEA countries. At least seven deaths from the disease were reported in two of those countries.

Between January and early February 2024, there were six fatal measles cases reported in Romania, where the health ministry has declared a national measles epidemic. Ireland also reported a fatal case of measles during that period. Last week the HSE confirmed that a 48-year-old man had died from the disease at a hospital in the Dublin and Midlands Health Region.

As well as a low vaccination coverage in some countries, a probable increase in measles cases has also been attributed to the high probability of importation from areas experiencing high circulation, and the fact that the coming months “represent the seasonal peak of the virus”, according to the report.

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Measles poses a threat to people of any age. Children who are too young to be vaccinated, as well as immunocompromised individuals and unvaccinated children under five years old, are particularly at risk from the disease.

Measles spreads easily, and so, high vaccination coverage – 95 per cent of the population vaccinated with two doses – is essential in interrupting transmissions of the disease, according to the ECDC. Particular efforts should be made to reach underserved and vulnerable populations, such as migrants and ethnic minorities, the agency said.

“Nobody should die from measles,” Andrea Ammon, the director of the ECDC, said in a statement. Ms Ammon said the increase in measles cases over recent months was a “stark reminder” that governments should “maximise efforts to achieve and maintain high vaccination coverage for all vaccine-preventable diseases”.

“Vaccines are a safe and effective way to reduce the health burden of infectious diseases and avoid unnecessary loss of life,” she said.

The agency also recommends that governments strive towards “high quality surveillance” of the disease, and “strengthen their capacity for early detection and control” of outbreaks, and for health authorities to increase awareness of the disease among healthcare providers.

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Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist