More than 360,000 cases have been reported since the start of the year, compared with 130,000 last year at the same time. The UN special agency estimates that fewer than one in ten cases have been reported, and the actual figures are likely to be much higher.
Worldwide measles cases have tripled since January compared to the same period last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday (August 13th). Between January 1 and July 31, there were 364,808 cases, up from 129,239 cases in the first seven months of 2018. These are figures "highest" it has never been registered since 2006, said spokesman Christian Lindmeier, at a news briefing in Geneva.
Most cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine. On Magadascar, "the number of cases, however, has decreased significantly in recent months" following national campaigns for emergency measles vaccination, the WHO noted. Other major epidemics are ongoing in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Thailand. The United States recorded the highest number of measles cases in 25 years.
In Europe, the number has doubled this year with nearly 90,000 cases reported. This figure is already well above the one recorded for the whole of 2018 (84,462). In other regions, WHO has experienced an explosion of cases in Africa, ten times the number, an increase of 230% in the Western Pacific and 50% in the Eastern Mediterranean. Each of the countries in Southeast Asia and the Americas experienced a 15% reduction in cases.
The largest measles outbreaks occur in countries with low measles immunization coverage. In western countries, "antivax" relies on a 1998 publication linking the measles and autism vaccine. The WHO has repeatedly rejected these criticisms and it has been found that the author of the publication, Andrew Wakefield, of Britain, has forged his results. Distrust can also have religious motives, such as in New York, where the disease was introduced by unvaccinated travelers from Israel.
Measles is one of the most devastating diseases in the world and death is most often due to complications. Curative treatment does not exist, but can be prevented by two doses of the vaccine "safe and very efficient"according to WHO. The agency believes that anyone over the age of 6 months should be protected against measles before traveling to an area where the virus is circulating. Passengers are advised to vaccinate at least 15 days before departure.
The WHO estimates that fewer than one in ten cases are reported worldwide, meaning that the epidemic is far higher than the official statistics.