WHO issues Europe measles warning

Boy with measles Measles is usually a mild illness - but can be fatal

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European countries need to act now to tackle measles outbreaks, the World Health Organization warns.

The WHO report says there were over 26,000 measles cases in 36 European countries from January to October 2011.

Western European countries reported 83% of those cases, with 14,000 in France alone.

In England and Wales, there were just under 1,000 confirmed measles cases in that period - compared with just 374 in the whole of 2010.

Altogether, measles outbreaks in Europe have caused nine deaths, including six in France, and 7,288 hospitalisations.

France has now launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the need for MMR vaccination.

Jean-Yves Grall, the Director-General for Health in France, said: "France can simply not afford to have deaths, painful and costly hospitalisations, disruptions to work and school from a completely vaccine-preventable disease."

Ninety per cent of European cases were amongst adolescents and adults who had not been vaccinated or people where it was not known if they had been vaccinated or not.

And measles from Europe has been linked to outbreaks in several other countries including Brazil, Canada and Australia.

'Potential danger'

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said: "The increase in measles in European countries reveals a serious challenge to achieving the regional measles elimination goal by 2015.

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Measles is a highly infectious and potentially dangerous illness which spreads very easily.”

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"Every country in the European region must take the opportunity now to raise coverage amongst susceptible populations, improve surveillance and severely reduce measles virus circulation before the approaching measles high season."

A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency, which covers England and Wales, said: "Anyone who missed out on MMR as a child will continue to be at risk of measles, which explains why we are continuing to see cases in a broad age range."

"We are again reminding parents and young adults of the importance of immunisation. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal."

"Measles is a highly infectious and potentially dangerous illness which spreads very easily. Whether you stay here in the UK or travel abroad it is crucial that individuals who may be at risk are fully immunised."

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