World Health Organization (WHO) provisional surveillance data for 2019 shows that measles cases have continued to climb in WHO member states. The data shows that reported cases rose by 300% in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years.
While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases. Current outbreaks include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, causing many deaths, mostly among young children.
Over recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.
Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases, with the potential to be extremely severe. In 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, it caused close to 110,000 deaths. Even in high-income countries, complications result in hospitalisation in up to a quarter of cases and can lead to lifelong disabilities from brain damage and blindness to hearing loss.
The disease is almost entirely preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. However for several years, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85%. This is still short of the 95% needed to prevent outbreaks and leaves many people at risk. Second dose coverage, while increasing, stands at 67% percent.
Further information and advice about measles for travel purposes can be found on the TRAVAX (for health professionals) and fitfortravel (for the general public) websites.
Source: WHO, 15 April 2019