Health Officials Say Measles Outbreak Could Destroy 'Decades Of Progress'

by Thea Glassman
Image via South_agency/Getty

Measles outbreaks have increased by double digits in one year and health officials say they know why

Between 2016-2017, there’s been a 30% increase in measles cases, according to new stats from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials warned that this news is “deeply concerning” and could set back the fight against measles by decades.

The rise in measles outbreaks is partly the result parental neglect in not vaccinating children, the two health organizations explained. The drop in vaccination numbers is due to the anti-vaccination movement and the lack of resources in poverty-stricken countries (like Venezuela, for instance, where there aren’t enough resources in hospitals).

Health officials say at least 95 percent of a population must have immunity in order to control the spread of measles. In several countries, that number is now 85 percent or less.

“Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease,” Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s deputy director general for programs, explains in a statement.

In the first half of this year alone, more than 41,000 children and adults experienced cases of the measles in Europe. This year, there have been a reported 220 cases in the United States (that’s up from 86 cases in 2016). And those numbers don’t even paint a full picture of the outbreaks.

“In general, the number of reported cases reflects a small proportion of the true number of cases occurring in the community,” the World Health Organization says. “Many cases do not seek health care or, if diagnosed, are not reported. In addition, there is a one to two month lag time in reporting.”

Measles has deadly side effects, including dehydration and pneumonia, and young children have the highest chance of being infected. Around 110,000 people died of measles last year and most of them were kids, according to the report.

Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says in a statement that there needs to be a big, urgent push for immunizations.

“Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress,” he says.

“Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunization coverage and strengthening health systems.”