Measles cases surge across Europe as infection rate more than doubles
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Europe saw around 90,000 cases of measles in the first half of 2019, more than in the whole of 2018 (84,462), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The latest figures follow the announcement earlier this month that the UK had lost its status of having effectively eliminated the disease. The country had been declared measles free in 2017.
It has also been joined by Albania, Czech Republic and Greece in being removed from the list by the the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC).
It evaluated infection data from 53 countries and found that as of the end of 2018, 35 countries had achieved or sustained measles elimination.
The WHO has said the surge in measles cases was partly due to disinformation about vaccines circulating on social media which it described as contagious and dangerous as the diseases it helps to spread.
Dr Gunter Pfaff, chair of the RVC, said: “Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning.
“If high immunisation coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily and some will tragically die.”
Professor Martin Marshall, vice-chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the findings were “disheartening”.
“While take-up of the MMR vaccination across the UK are still high, it is not high enough, and we have actually seen a small decline in recent years,” he said.
“It is clear that we are still suffering from entirely debunked claims around MMR that were perpetuated in the nineties – and are now resurgent on social media and other online platforms.
“Work is continuing across the NHS to ensure messages about the safety, and life-saving nature of vaccinations are heard, and it is encouraging that WHO has increased its focus on measles elimination and upgraded action to address the challenges which have allowed this deadly virus to persist in countries including the UK.
The WHO infection figures come as the social media company Pinterest announced it would only provide evidence-based information from leading health experts to its users in a bid to tackle health misinformation.
The company will give users resources from WHO, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the WHO-established Vaccine Safety Net (VSN) when they search for a related term.
WHO said in a statement: “Social media platforms are the way many people get their information and they will likely be major sources of information for the next generations of parents.
“We see this as a critical issue and one that needs our collective effort to protect people’s health and lives.”