Measles in Europe
According to data from the World Health Organization measles killed 72 people in the European Region in 2018. The total number of people infected with measles in 2018 was the highest this decade and three times the number of cases in the previous year. The main reason for this increase is caused by gaps in the vaccination of children against the disease.
This map shows the incidence rate of measles in European countries per 1 million people (no data was reported from Germany or Kosovo). The data for the map comes from the World Health Organization's 'Reported measles and rubella cases and incidence rates by Member States'. This is provisional data based on monthly data reported to WHO (Geneva) as of March 2019. The data is for February 2018 - January 2019. The map shows the number of recorded cases of measles reported to the WHO. The actual number of cases is likely to be higher.The colors on the map indicate the incidence rate of measles in each European country. If you hover over individual countries on the map you can view the incidence rate of measles per 1 million people in the selected country.
Although Europe as a whole has seen a huge rise in the number of measles cases the level of this rise has not been equal across the continent. Have a look at the countries with a measles rate of over one hundred per million and the countries with a measles rate over fifty per million.
As you can see the incidence rate of measles is much higher in the east of the continent. All the courties with a measles rate over 50 are in East Europe.
One reason why the number of measles cases tripled in Europe last year was a huge outbreak of the disease in Ukraine. In 2018 there were nearly 83,000 cases of measles in the country (up from 25,500 cases in 2017). The huge rise in measles in Ukraine is partly down to parents refusing to vaccinate their children. In 2008 a 17 year old died a day after receiving a vaccination for measles. The cause of death had nothing to do with the vaccination but it led to a fall in confidence in the vaccination. The rates of vaccination in Ukraine fell from 97% of 1 year olds in 2007 to 56% in 2010.
Another cause for the drop in vaccination rates has been the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Since the invasion Ukraine has suffered a shortage of the measles vaccine. Because of that shortage Ukraine only vaccinated 42% of 1 year olds in 2016. Only 31% of 6 year olds received the recommended second measles shot. Frequent power outages in some regions of the country could also have led to faulty measles vaccines (the vaccine must be stored at less than 8 degrees centigrade).
The huge outbreak of measles in Ukraine has been mirrored by an increase of measles cases reported in neighboring countries. It is hard to say whether the disease has spread from Ukraine to neighboring countries or from neighboring countries to Ukraine. However it is true that the disease is more likely to take hold in countries with a poor record of vaccination.
Serbia, for example, has seen a big rise in measles cases. Since 2017 Serbia has suffered the biggest measles outbreak in the country in 25 years. It is believed that most of those infected were not vaccinated. Serbia has a number of anti-vaccination groups who are very active on social media.
The incidence rate of measles in the western countries of Europe looks low when compared to Ukraine. However most European countries have seen a sharp rise in the number of measles cases.
For example in France there were 2,913 cases of measles in 2018 compared to 519 cases in 2017. The spread of anti-vaccine groups in France has resulted in no department in the country reaching the recommended 95% vaccination rate. In 2018 a law was passed which now makes the measles vaccine obligatory. Hopefully the vaccination rate will now increase in France.
The UK has also seen a rise in the number of cases of measles. There were 966 measles cases in England in 2018, which was nearly four times the 259 cases reported in the previous year.
According to the UK's National Health Service the majority of cases were reported in people who had not been vaccinated for the disease. The UK government says that the increase in measles cases in the UK is mainly associated with travel to and from Europe where there are large ongoing measles outbreaks.