A studied published in the UK’s Lancet journal in January suggests that the number of cases of measles in Europe have sharply risen, with more than 6,000 people affected in the first nine months of 2008 alone. This new data puts hopes of eradicating the disease in Europe by 2010 in doubt.
The countries with the highest prevalence of the disease (Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Italy and Romania) are also the countries where the vaccination rates are below 90 percent, which is well below the World Health Organisation’s target of 95 per cent.
By contrast, countries where the vaccination levels match the WHO’s recommendation (Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary) have reported far fewer measles cases.
Mark Muscat, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen where the study was led, said that it is not merely a question of reaching the recommended vaccination coverage, but also maintaining the levels. As soon as vaccination levels drop off, we risk having pools of people where the disease can spread.
Although the disease is easily prevented by a vaccination, normally administered during childhood, measles still kills as many as 250,000 people each year, notably in poor countries.
Measles is mistakenly thought to be a ’mild’ disease, when in fact it can cause complications, including fatal ones. Health officials insist that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine should be widely used, and dismiss safety fears that have surrounded the vaccination in countries such as the UK.
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