Measles Infection on the rise in Europe
Whoever thought the measles had been eradicated a long time ago, is wrong. This viral disease is still active despite the existing vaccination programme. In fact, the measles are on a comeback tour in Europe! According to the World Health Council (WHO), there are likely to be more people infected with the virus in the first months of 2017 than in the whole year of 2016. Something to worry about? Yes. The measles can make you very sick, and there is still no cure for it. In extreme cases, the disease can even be fatal.
What are the measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads through salivary drops (for example by sneezing, coughing or talking) in the air.
Although the measles is called a childhood disease, this virus is definitely not innocent. It starts like a cold or the flu with high fever, cough and red eyes. After a few days, spots appear on the skin. Usually, after a week, the disease heals, but sometimes there are complications. These can range from ear infections or pneumonia to cerebral inflammation with permanent brain injury, sometimes even death.
Before the national vaccination programme, almost every child in the UK contracted the measles. Thereafter, children were vaccinated against the disease via the national vaccination programme (this is one of the letters M in the MMR vaccination). As a result, the number of cases of measles decreased drastically: from hundreds of thousands of patients a year to around 100 cases a year since the catch-up immunisation campaign from 2013. Yet, Public Health England is warning people that here is a new risk of the measles epidemic, especially among populations who have not been vaccinated, for example for religious reasons or anthroposophical living. In other European countries, vaccination policies are not always as well respected leading to occasional outbreaks.
The measles vaccine is at its highest level of protection when 95% of the population has been vaccinated. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. There are a number of countries in Europe where much fewer people get the measles vaccine. For example, because there is too little of the vaccine in stock or because of the fear of vaccination. According to the WHO, the 95% long-term vaccination rate is not reached in Italy, Romania, Ukraine and Switzerland. And because we travel a lot nowadays, the virus can easily cross borders. This poses a danger to young children and adults who have not yet been vaccinated at all or only partially. That is also the case for the UK!
What can you do in the case of measles?
If you (or your child) are unexpectedly infected with the measles virus, you can only fight the symptoms. There is no cure for the disease itself. Paracetamol helps to control the pain. If there is a lung or other inflammation, an antibiotic cure may be prescribed. Keep drinking well and pay attention to dehydration in young children and the elderly. If you get sicker, if you have difficulties breathing or if you feel drowsy or if you notice these symptoms in your child, please contact a doctor.
Sources: RIVM, NOS, Scientias