There’s been a serious measles outbreak in Europe this year. In the first half of 2018, there have been more than 41,000 reported cases of measles in Europe, and at least 37 deaths. The 41,000 cases during the first half of 2018 is almost double the number of measles cases reported during the entire year of 2017 and is almost eight times higher than the reported measles figures for Europe in 2016.
There is a simple apparent cause for the European measles outbreak: a drop in immunization rates. Routine vaccinations of young children with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — which is shown to be 97% effective in preventing measles — are falling in countries like Italy, Romania, and the Ukraine. It’s not clear whether parents are simply not as attentive as they once were, or whether they think measles has been wiped out and vaccination isn’t necessary in the modern world, or they’ve fallen prey to scientifically dubious arguments that MMR vaccination leads to conditions like autism.
The decline in vaccinations in the general public is the key to measles outbreaks, because measles is one of the most virulent, communicable diseases around. It’s spread by droplets in the coughs and sneezes of an infected person, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a person with measles can infect 90 percent of the non-immune people who come within close contact. And even though measles seems like a simple childhood disease, it can have serious complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, in some cases.
According to the CDC, there are no measles outbreaks in the U.S.; as of August, there had been only 124 cases of measles in 22 states in 2018, and none in Ohio. It’s a marked contrast to the figures reported in Europe. The outbreak in Europe, however, shows that parents and doctors need to keep their guards up and ensure that kids get vaccinated. And it shows something more: in this interconnected world, we’ve got to be able to depend on each other to follow the health care basics. If people stop getting the routine, proven vaccinations, measles may end up being the least of our concerns.