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Measles Cases Rise Dramatically in Europe in 2017

22 Feb 2018

On 19 February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a reporting showing a four-fold increase in European measles cases in 2017 compared to 2016. In total, the WHO recorded 21,315 cases of the disease and 35 deaths in 2017, in comparison to 5,273 cases in 2016; the latter marked a record low.

Key Points

  • In 2017, cases of measles in Europe grew 400 per cent.
  • The dramatic rise comes after a record low year in Europe in 2016.
  • More than 20,000 people were infected, and 35 deaths were attributed to measles in 2017.


Situational Summary

Health: On 19 February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a reporting showing a four-fold increase in European measles cases in 2017 compared to 2016. In total, the WHO recorded 21,315 cases of the disease and 35 deaths in 2017, in comparison to 5,273 cases in 2016; the latter marked a record low.

Large measles outbreaks (100 or more cases) affected 15 of the 53 countries in the European region (as defined by the WHO); almost one in four. The most significant outbreaks were reported in Romania (5562 infections), Italy (5006), and Ukraine (4767). The other 12 countries in which large outbreaks occurred were, in chronological order, Greece, Germany, Serbia, Tajikistan, France, Russia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Spain, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. These countries recorded between 967 cases (Greece) and 105 (Switzerland). In their report, the WHO highlighted that the number of measles cases was declining towards the end of 2017.

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral condition which has the potential to become fatal; it is most common in young children and the infection usually clears in around a week to ten days. The symptoms of measles include:

  • Cold-like ailments, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough.
  • Sore and red eyes which may be sensitive to light.
  • A fever which may reach around 40o
  • Small grey to white spots on the inside of the cheeks.
  • Usually after the above, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear.

Once an individual has had measles or received a vaccination, they develop immunity. However, the disease can cause complications including lung and brain infections, which can be life-threatening.

Measles is transmitted by tiny liquid droplets which come out of the nose and mouth when an infected individual sneezes or coughs. These droplets are easily inhaled or can be contracted from infected surfaces, where the virus can live for several hours. People with measles remain infectious for about four days after the rash first appears.

Why the Increase?

The WHO has pointed to a number of number of reasons why the aforementioned countries have reported such significant outbreaks. Notably, “declines in overall routine immunization coverage, consistently low coverage among some marginalized groups, interruptions in vaccine supply, or underperforming disease surveillance systems.” In the case of Romania, which is fighting its worst outbreak in decades, the WHO has pointed out that the increase in measles cases can be specifically attributed to a shortage of the vaccine and poor healthcare facilities. There are also fears that the country’s significant Roma population, which often live in severe poverty, are at particular risk of spreading and contracting the disease. In Ukraine, the ongoing war, issues with corruption, and a stagnant economy, have restricted healthcare quality in the country.

Experts suggest that people are also snubbing the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination, which has attributed to the problem. The vaccination continues to be linked to autism, despite this research being widely discredited and debunked. In Italy, the outbreak has been attributed to a vocal ‘anti-vax movement’ which has encouraged Italians not to immunise their children. While vaccines are usually given in two doses to very young children, it can still be given to adults and children who have not been fully immunised before.

What is Being Done to Control the Rise of Measles in Europe?

A number of measures have been or are being put into place to help control measles outbreaks in Europe, with the WHO working with national health departments. These include “raising public awareness, immunizing health-care professionals and other adults at particular risk, addressing challenges in access, and improving supply planning and logistics.”

In response to the anti-vax movement, the Italian government has stated that children are required to be vaccinated against 12 common illnesses before they can begin at a state-run school; the law has become a key issue in the upcoming Italian elections.

A number of countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, have achieved measles elimination status. This means that in recent years, the number of cases has been reduced to an extent that stops the disease spreading around the country. Despite this, in January 2018 alone, there were 51 confirmed cases of measles in the West Midlands, leading to Public Health England to put out a warning. The WHO advises that to prevent outbreaks, upwards of 95 per cent of the population should be immunised; in the UK in 2016-17, this rate was 91.6 per cent.



All individuals who have had the MMR vaccination or have previously contracted measles are safe from an infection. If you are concerned about an infection, ensure that you have had this vaccination. If you contract the disease, there are a number of steps which should be undertaken to treat it and prevent it spreading.

For most travel to Europe, Solace Global would not advised clients of the need for enhanced security or medical measures. However, for certain locations, such as Ukraine, or for certain traveller profiles, this advised level may need to be increased. Travellers are advised to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed for all travel in the continent. This should enable a traveller to be alerted of any security updates within their vicinity, and to update others of their movements in case of an emergency.