After the World Health Organization reported a 30-fold increase between 2022 and 2023, a measles outbreak in Europe has public health officials worried. And the United States is experiencing its own set of smaller outbreaks in multiple communities.

Kazakhstan, which straddles Europe and Asia, has seen the most cases so far, WHO reported. But the United Kingdom is also experiencing what’s been deemed a “national incident” with 216 confirmed cases and 103 probable cases. And Euronews reported that “more than 30,000 measles cases were reported by 40 of the WHO European region’s 53 member states between January and October last year, compared to 941 cases in 2022.”

Of those, 21,000 people were hospitalized and five people died. The World Health Organization said this week that “urgent measures” are needed to prevent further spread.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s weekly threats report, the virus stopped spreading during pandemic lockdowns, but cases have increased “steadily” since June 2023.

Per Euronews, “Alongside the U.K., Romania is on red alert. Last December, the country’s health ministry declared a national measles epidemic following a worrying rise in cases and a high number of hospitalizations among infected children.”

The article says three unvaccinated babies and one unvaccinated adult died.

Cases have been reported across Europe, including in France, Austria and Germany.

Most U.S. cases have been linked to foreign travel and the number of cases in 2023 was lower than during most pre-pandemic years, according to The New York Times. But public health officials are worried that things will continue to worsen in the U.S. and abroad.

CNN reported this week that nearly a dozen cases of measles have been reported in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia recently. “International travel, coupled with declining global vaccination rates, is probably behind this spate of cases.”

About measles

Measles is a viral illness that transmits with incredible ease. The virus resides in the nose and throat mucus of someone who is infected and spreads through coughing and sneezing. People then contract it by breathing contaminated air or touching an infected surface and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Animals do not spread the disease, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Once someone coughs or sneezes, the measles virus can hang around in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has moved on.

According to the CDC’s measles fact sheet, symptoms appear a week or two after exposure and usually include high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. The tell-tale rash appears three to five days after the first symptoms and a day or two after tiny white spots appear in the mouth.

People who are infected can spread measles from four days before to four days after the rash appears.

Measles can be dangerous, even deadly, especially for the youngest sufferers, so public health experts say that the doctor should be called immediately if someone in the family has been exposed.

The best way to avoid measles is to be vaccinated.

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That measles is highly contagious is clear in the narrative provided to CNN by Philadelphia Department of Health spokesman James Garrow, detailing an outbreak in his community. He said that someone who’d traveled outside the country got measles, then exposed a parent and child at a children’s hospital. “That exposure then led to a Philadelphia day care outbreak that includes at least five children.”

CNN said Virginia health officials were warning people who traveled recently out of Dulles International Airport on Jan. 3 and Reagan Washington National Airport on Jan. 4 that they could have been exposed to measles.

Curbing the spread

The CDC has said that a very effective vaccination campaign virtually wiped out measles in the United States in 2000. But because the virus still spreads elsewhere, those who are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting measles.

A two-dose vaccination for most confers lifelong immunity.

But the popularity of international travel means that someone who is not vaccinated can travel and get measles, then bring it home where it can spread to others who have not been vaccinated. The number of people who aren’t vaccinated has grown over time in the U.S. in part because of a study — later retracted because it was based on faulty data — that linked the vaccine to risk of autism.

American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Dr. Christina Jones told CNN that close to 92% of U.S. children have received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine by age 2, which is below the federal goal of 95%, the number that would strengthen herd immunity and provide indirect protection to those not vaccinated.

The CDC reported that the share of kindergartners who received their state-mandated vaccines for measles was lower than federal targets last school year. And the number of people seeking exemptions is higher than ever before.

The centers said children need two doses of the vaccine: one at 12 to 15 months of age and another between ages 4 and 6.

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Per CNN, “Before the nation’s measles vaccination program, about 3 million to 4 million people got the virus every year, and about 400 to 500 died.”

People who have symptoms and need to see a doctor or go to the hospital should call ahead so they can be isolated from other patients and not expose them to the virus.

Unvaccinated people who know they’ve been exposed can get the vaccine within three days and reduce the risk of severe complications or illness.

But there’s no specific treatment for measles. The virus has to burn itself out. Care is instead supportive: reducing fever, getting lots of rest and staying hydrated.

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