More than 330 cases of measles have been reported in the first three months of this year in the UK, nearly as many as were reported in all of last year. According to the Guardian, a total of 334 cases of measles have been confirmed in England and Wales, as compared with 33 cases for the same period last year, and 374 in all of 2010. There have been outbreaks in universities, schools and in individual families, with most of the cases occurring in London and the south-east, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber.
Even more alarming are figures about measles cases in France where more than 5,000 cases have been reported this year. The World Health Organization says that, as of mid-April, 6500 cases of measles have been reported in 33 countries. Outbreaks have also occurred in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Serbia.
In regard to the US, travelers returning from Europe have brought back the disease. The US has had 118 cases of measles reported so far in children and adults in places including Minnesota, Boston and Santa Fe.
Since 1997, measles cases in the US had been reduced to fewer than 150 annually thanks to immunizations. As the above figures reveal, the disease is still common worldwide, with an estimated 10 million cases and 164,000 deaths globally each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accordingly, US citizens traveling or living abroad very much need to be up to date on immunizations.
In the UK, vaccination rates for measles and infectious diseases such as mumps have significantly declined in the wake of fraudulent research by Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who claimed he had found a link between the MMR vaccine and certain gastrointestinal problems in some autistic children; scientific evidence continues to refute any link between vaccines and autism. In the UK and the US, more than a few parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, or to “spread out” vaccinations. Doing so leads to a lower vaccination rate in a population which in turn leads to lowered “herd immunity”: When a significant proportion of a population has been vaccinated against a disease, those who not been vaccinated (such as infants) have a measure of protection. But when overall vaccination rates are lower, herd immunity is compromised.
Symptoms of measles include fever, cough and a rash that spreads down from the scalp and through the body. The disease is highly contagious. For every 1,000 children who contract measles, one or two will die, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Writing in the Guardian, Dr. Luisa Dillner discusses why getting measles is, to understate the matter, no fun:
Measles is nasty — a dry cough, runny nose, red eyes that are made sore by light and a reddish brown rash. The typical sign is grey white spots in the mouth and throat. It’s caused by a virus, gives you a fever, and you feel ill for up to two weeks. There is no treatment.
Vaccinations really can make a difference in your health and in the health of the world. With summer just around the corner, if you’re planning to travel aboard, make sure your and your family’s vaccinations are up to date so that you bring back souvenirs, not a serious infectious disease.
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Photo by Dave Haygarth.