February 2, 2009

WHO Reports on Measles Outbreak

A World Health Organization (WHO) study published on Monday said, more children in Germany must be vaccinated against measles to prevent another widespread outbreak.

Three years ago, over 12,000 people were infected with measles in Germany, Romania, Britain, Switzerland and Italy in an unusual epidemic caused by low immunization rates against the contagious viral disease.

"The 2006 measles outbreak must be regarded as a wake-up call," experts from Berlin\'s Robert Koch Institute and two German public health centers said in the latest WHO Bulletin, in a study that focused only on Germany.

They said vaccination coverage rates remain dangerously low, creating a continuing risk for children to get the viral disease, which killed 197,000 people in 2007.

"Immediate nationwide school-based catch-up vaccination campaigns targeting older age groups are needed to close critical immunity gaps," the researchers said, noting German children aged 10 to 14 were most affected in the 2006 outbreak.

According to a separate study published last month in The Lancet, vaccination rates across Europe range from over 95 percent in Finland, to as low as 70 percent for children born between 1996 and 2003 in Germany.

About 95 percent of vaccination coverage will be needed in Europe to halt the risk of an outbreak of measles, whose main symptoms are high fever and rash, with potential complications including blindness, encephalitis, ear infections, and pneumonia.

There are two doses of measles vaccine which are recommended for immunity.

Even though there has been a measles vaccine available since 1963, some parents do not have their children vaccinated, which has sparked a resurgence in cases in Europe as well as the United Sates.

Public health officials have stressed the safety of the combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, in response to concerns from some groups who say the shot may cause autism or other health problems.

Measles spread through people coughing, sneezing, or just talking.  About 90 percent of unvaccinated people who contact a measles patient become infected.


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