January 12, 2009

EU study: Measles persists in Europe

Measles persists as a health problem in Europe, largely because too few children are being properly vaccinated, a European Union study said.

The disease -- whose symptoms include a four-day fever accompanied by a cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis, or pink eye -- will probably not be eliminated next year as health officials hoped, the study in the medical journal The Lancet said.

The study by Denmark's Statens Serum Institut for the EU's European Commission found 12,132 measles cases in Europe. Most were in Britain, Germany, Italy, Romania and Switzerland.

Seven deaths were recorded, the study said.

The number of reported cases rose despite the institution of a measles vaccine into routine childhood vaccination programs more than 20 years ago, the researchers said.

In most cases, infected children were either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated, they said.

The MMR vaccine -- which immunizes against measles, mumps and rubella -- is generally administered to children when they turn 1, with a second dose around age 4 or 5.

The second dose is not a booster, but rather a dose to produce immunity in the small percentage of children who fail to develop measles immunity after the first dose.

High measles incidence in some European countries revealed suboptimum vaccination coverage, the study said. The suboptimum vaccination coverage raises serious doubts that the goal of elimination by 2010 can be attained.

The disease will, in fact, not be eliminated without greater MMR use, it said.