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WHO concerned: More and more measles cases in Europe

WHO concerned: More and more measles cases in Europe
The declining vaccination rate is the main cause of the many measles cases.

In the first three months of this year, more than 56,600 infections and four deaths were recorded in the WHO European region, which also includes Central Asia, the World Health Organization’s regional directorate announced on Tuesday. That is only 5,000 fewer infections than in the whole of last year. At the same time, this represents a 60-fold increase compared to 2022.

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In Austria, too, there are already many more cases this year than in the whole of last year: Since the beginning of the year, 434 confirmed cases of measles have been recorded in the epidemiological reporting system (EMS) (as of May 28, 2024, 7:00 a.m.). AGES (Agency for Health and Food Safety) also has information on hospitalization for 426 measles patients: 81 people (19 percent) were treated in hospital, four of whom were in an intensive care unit.

“More cases of measles are to be expected,” warns AGES. For comparison: In 2023, a total of 186 cases of measles were recorded in the reporting system. At that time, 49 people were treated in hospital.

Declining vaccination rate as a cause

WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge called on the countries in the region to take immediate action to prevent the virus from taking hold in the population. A main reason for the rising numbers is a declining vaccination rate. In order to eradicate measles, at least 95 percent of a population must be fully vaccinated against the disease. According to the WHO, however, the global vaccination rate has recently fallen to 83 percent, for example due to missed vaccinations during the corona pandemic. The vaccine is available free of charge to everyone in Austria at public vaccination centers and is recommended from the age of 9 months.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is transmitted more quickly than the flu, for example. In addition to typical symptoms such as fever and red rash, life-threatening complications such as meningitis can also occur. Although measles is often perceived as a typical childhood disease, unvaccinated adults can also become infected.

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