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Measles cases rise across the world

Measles cases rise by 30% across the globe as world health chiefs blame anti-vaxxers for the surge

  • Multiple countries have had their measles elimination certificate withdrawn
  • The World Health Organization report showed there were 173,000 cases in 2017 
  • It tracked 17 years worth of data for the new report, alongside the CDC
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Cases of measles across the world were 30 per cent higher in 2017 than the year before, according to an official report.

Health chiefs have blamed anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation for the resurgence of the potentially life-threatening infection.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also pinpointed collapsing health systems and complacency for the worrying trend.

World health chiefs have blamed anti-vaxxers for the resurgence of the potentially life-threatening infection

Multiple countries – notably Germany, Russia and Venezuela – have had their measles elimination certificate withdrawn over the last 12 months.

A country loses its measles elimination status when ‘the same type of virus has been circulating for more than 12 continuous months’.

European health leaders last year declared that the ‘elimination’ of measles had been achieved in the UK, meaning it is no longer native to the country.

But the uptake of both doses is now around 87 per cent in England, short of the 95 per cent target needed to stop measles spreading. 

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In Europe, experts blamed the problem in part on complacency and misinformation about a vaccine proven to be both effective and safe.

Martin Friede, WHO’s director of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals told reporters that ‘we are actually regressing’ in the fight against measles.

He said ‘supposed experts making accusations against the vaccine without any evidence’ has had an impact on parents’ decisions.


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an injected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.

Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.

The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading. 

Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.

In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious. 

‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain. 

‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’

Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.

Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.

Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital 

He cited baseless claims linking the measles vaccine to autism, which have been spread in part on social media by members of the so-called ‘anti-vax’ movement.

But cases have also spiked in Latin America, partly due to ‘a collapsing health system in Venezuela,’ the head of the vaccine alliance Gavi, Seth Berkley, said in a statement.

A crippling political and economic crisis in Venezuela has triggered massive inflation, with hospitals struggling to maintain stocks.

Mr Friede added it was worrying that cases were being seen in countries that had not seen any measles transmissions ‘for many years’.

WHO, which tracked 17 years worth of data for the new report alongside the CDC, stressed the overall global fight against measles had shown impressive results this century.

In 2000, there were more than 850,000 cases reported worldwide, compared to 173,000 last year. 

That progress made the recent setbacks all the more frustrating, said WHO immunisation expert Ann Lindstrand.

‘We have a safe and effective vaccine,’ she told reporters. ‘This is not rocket science, we know what to do.’

A breakdown of the regions showed measles cases have jumped by 458 per cent in Europe and 100 per cent in Africa over the last year.

Smaller rises were recorded in North and South America – while cases declined by 82 per cent in the Western Pacific region.  

According to WHO guidelines, preventing measles outbreaks requires 95 percent coverage of the first dose of the vaccine.

Global coverage has stalled at 85 percent for several years, but the figure is lower in poorer regions like Africa, which had a coverage rate of 70 percent in 2017.

Slowing rates could be down to disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield’s theory in 1995 that the MMR vaccine is linked to bowel disease and autism.

His controversial study, which was published in The Lancet, has since been retracted and his views have been widely discredited.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, which can cause severe diarrhoea, pneumonia and vision loss and can be fatal in some cases.


Andrew Wakefield’s discredited autism research has long been blamed for a drop in measles vaccination rates

In 1995, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.

He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.

After a 1998 paper further confirmed this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed ‘autistic enterocolitis’] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’

At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and the UK plummeted, until, in 2004 the then-editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by attorneys seeking lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.

Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practicing medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.

On January 6 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.

At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.

Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.

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