Measles Outbreak in Europe Caused 6,500 Cases This Year

Apr 21, 2011, 16:18 by Greg Stacy

A measles outbreak in Europe has caused 6,500 cases so far this year, the World Health Organization reports.

According to a report released by WHO yesterday, since the beginning of this year there have been outbreaks in 30 nations, including Belgium, France, Serbia, Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Spain. France has had the largest outbreak, with 4,937 measles cases reported between January and March, a number not far from the 5,090 cases that were reported there for all of 2010.

WHO believes that the outbreaks could become worse in the days ahead, as many people travel for the Easter holidays.

The United Nations health agency is pushing for European countries to work together to fight the spread of the disease.

"With shared borders and considerable population movement, countries share health threats," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the agency's regional director for Europe. "There is a need to create strong partnerships to prevent and control diseases, such as measles, in our region."

European Immunization Week, which marks its seventh anniversary this year, begins this Saturday in 50 European countries, the largest number since the initiative started.

Ms. Jakab said that Immunization Weeks is a time for "countries to come together and collaborate on joint planning of preventive measures and effective responses to the common threats we face from vaccine-preventable diseases. Only through this kind of collaboration can we achieve the goals of boosting vaccination coverage and eliminating measles and rubella by 2015."

Measles is one of the globe's most common causes of death among children. It's estimated that 164,000 people died from the virus in 2008.

Although it is highly contagious, the disease is entirely preventable if appropriate measures are taken. Measles can be prevented through the use of a vaccine, and worldwide immunization campaigns have protected millions of children in high-risk zones around the world. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of deaths from measles dropped by an estimated 78%.