The World Health Organization projected a near doubling of measles cases due to outbreaks in rich and poor countries alike, and appealed to countries to get back on track with vaccination protocols.
The news comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is following measles outbreaks in New York City, New York state’s Rockland County, New York state’s Monroe County, Washington state, and Texas.
“Measles is so contagious that if someone has it, 90 percent of the people around that person who are not immune will become infected,” stresses the Texas Department of State Health Services. The virus is also extremely resilient, surviving for hours in a drop of water, the WHO notes.
The WHO estimates 110,000 people died from measles in 2017. Complications can include brain inflammation and blindness.
“Measles is not going anywhere… it’s everyone’s responsibility,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO. “For one person infected, up to nine or 10 people could catch the virus.”
Measles cases have increased in all regions: Africa saw 33,879 measles infections in 2018, including 922 deaths in an ongoing outbreak in Madagascar that began last October. There were nearly 17,000 cases of measles in the Americas, just under 22,000 in the Eastern Mediterranean, 82,596 infections in 47 of 53 European countries, 73,133 in southeast Asia, and 23,607 in the Western Pacific.
O’Brien said high vaccination rates are essential to bring those rising rates back under control. Rates are about 85 percent for first doses and 67 percent for second-dose coverage, amid rumors that link vaccinations to autism, even though 95 percent vaccination rates are needed to prevent outbreaks.
The WHO noted that before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, outbreaks every few years caused 2.6 million deaths annually.
“We’re backsliding on the progress that has been made, not because we don’t have the tools, but because we’re not vaccinating,” O’Brien told reporters.