Measles infections in Europe hit decade high in 2018

Measles infections in Europe hit decade high in 2018

In the WHO's European region, which covers almost 900 million people, some 82,600 in 47 countries contracted measles past year - the highest number this decade.

At the same time, the World Health Organization said, record numbers of children are getting the vaccine - offering hope that the rise in infections may not last.

In 34 of the countries, estimated coverage with a second dose of measles vaccine was below 95 per cent. "We have vaccines that are very cheap, very effective, and very, very safe".

The region's measles outbreak began in Clark County, Washington, where since January 1, health officials had confirmed 49 cases and suspected nine others as of Tuesday morning.

Statewide in Washington, orders for measles vaccine jumped about 30 percent, climbing from 12,140 doses to 15,780 doses, figures showed. Concern over the vaccine can be traced back to a 1998 paper by former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who falsely linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism.

The orders represent only state-supplied vaccines requested through the federal Vaccines for Children program, which provides free immunizations to children who otherwise couldn't afford them.

Dr. Alan Melnick, Public Health Director and Clark County Health Officer, said that two major factors are causing the outbreak.

Experts can't say for sure where the next outbreak might be. An additional case was confirmed in King County, which includes Seattle, and in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland and lies across the Columbia River from Clark County.

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On Wednesday, officials sent letters to families of 5,000 children in Multnomah County, telling them they'll be excluded from school if they don't have up-to-date immunizations or valid exemptions by February 20.

Measles is one of the most highly contagious viruses in existence, which makes the prospect of an outbreak frightening.

Most of the infections have occurred in children, under age 18, who were unvaccinated.

The percentage of children receiving the first dose of the vaccine also increased, to 95%. Between January 13 and February 2, 2,739 children and 1,754 adults were vaccinated compared to 630 children and 60 adults over the same period past year.

Part of the challenge facing public health officials is that Canada doesn't have a national vaccination registry and provinces track vaccine rates differently, meaning it can be hard to get an accurate, real-time sense of how many people are up-to-date on their shots - and where pockets of low immunization are.

Falling vaccination rates in the United States and Europe have been blamed for outbreaks of measles.

For one, Washington is one of only 17 states that permit children to get a non-religious exemption to attend school unvaccinated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Washington state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, has introduced a measure that would remove personal-belief exemptions for the MMR vaccine. Others object to the timing and combinations of the vaccines and to being forced to inoculate their children.

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