The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday released an update on global measles cases, noting a spike in the number of cases confirmed.
As of Nov. 5, there were more than 440,200 measles cases worldwide reported to WHO, a 26% increase from 350,000 cases in 2018. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 110,000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five. The potentially deadly illness, which can be easily prevented with vaccinations, continues to spike globally, with multiple large outbreaks being reported across Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
DR Congo posts huge numbers
The most shocking numbers were posted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which registered a total of 250,270 cases on November 17, an increase of 8,000 cases over the week prior. Some 5,110 measles-related deaths were registered in the DRC. Elsewhere in Africa, Chad reported 25,596 cases as of November 17, affecting 94% of the country’s districts. Whereas the DRC is currently issuing vaccinations, Chad has yet to do so.
Outbreaks in every corner of the world
In the Americas, Brazil listed 11,887 cases, most of which were reported in Sao Paulo. Two outbreaks in New York state in the US have been declared over, though the WHO says other outbreaks are occurring throughout the country.
In Europe, Ukraine far outpaced other countries, reporting some 56,802 cases, followed by Kazakhstan with 10,126 cases, Georgia with 3,904 cases, Russian Federation with 3,521 cases, Turkey with 2,666 cases, and Kyrgyzstan with 2,228 cases of measles. Some of these outbreaks (e.g. Georgia, Russian Federation, Turkey) have resolved.
A measles epidemic in Samoa has killed 39 people, with the WHO blaming an anti-vaccine messaging campaign for leaving the Pacific island nation vulnerable to the spread of the virus. The UN health agency warned that a steep decline in vaccination rates in Samoa had paved the way for a “huge outbreak”, with almost 3,000 in a country of just 200,000 people.
Measles is among the most infectious diseases and can be prevented with two doses of vaccine. Even with implementation of routine immunization, measles continues to circulate globally due to sub-optimal vaccination coverage and population immunity gaps.
Any community with less than 95% population immunity is at risk for an outbreak. If an outbreak response is not timely and comprehensive, the virus will find its way into more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread within and beyond the affected countries. As long as measles continues to circulate anywhere in the world, no country can be assured to avoid importation.
Scientist Ian Mackay, who specializes in virology at the University of Queensland, said the rhetoric peddled on social media was “not correct”. Some claim a suggested alternative to getting vaccinated is high doses of Vitamin A, which experts say cannot prevent getting the measles infection and is not based on evidence. “The only way to prevent getting measles — the disease — is to have the vaccine, and have both doses of it,” he said.
“No other personal medications or vitamin concoction or magical oil will prevent that virus from spreading. It’s only vaccination.”
The World Health Organisation’s Nikki Turner said online misinformation claiming children could be treated with vitamins had “no scientific evidence” behind them, and that such claims were “conning” people from getting correct treatment, the Samoa Observer reported last week.