On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had announced that four European nations has had their hard-earned ‘measles-free’ status stripped away after an overwhelming global comeback of measles infection. Based on recent data, WHO reported that almost 365,000 cases have been reported worldwide this year, nearly three times as many as in the early half of 2018. The four countries – The United Kingdom, Albania, Greece and the Czech Republic, had previously received the astounding recognition after demonstrating at least 12 months of zero endemic transmission of the virus.
What is measles?
Measles is a potentially fatal and highly contagious infection that can spread either by air droplets released from coughing and sneezing; or through direct contact with airway secretions. Once released into the surrounding, it is able to live in the airspace or nearby surfaces for up to two hours, being able to infect around 90% of the nearby non-immune individuals. Symptoms include the development of rashes, high-grade fever, conjunctivitis, headache and respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.
How to combat measles?
Since there is no cure for the infection and that current treatments are only aimed towards alleviating its symptoms, preventive measure via the use of measles vaccination is the mainstay approach. Despite some wild accusations over the years, measles vaccination has proven to be not only effective at preventing measles infection, but also incredibly safe. From an economic perspective, it is also very cost-effective. Routine measles vaccination costs just around RM 4 (1 USD) to produce a long-lasting protection per person. Before the days where measles vaccination was made widely available, nearly everyone before the age of 15 would have had it. From there, it can complicate into an acute brain inflammation (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) and/or facilitate fatal respiratory infections caused by opportunistic bacteria.
What’s spurring the unwelcomed measles comeback?
According to Dr. Kate O’Brien of the WHO’s Immunisation Department, it is very worrying to learn what has unfolded in the four nations because they have had an extremely high level of national vaccination coverage.
“This is the alarm bell that is ringing around the world: being able to achieve high national coverage is not enough, it has to be achieved in every community, and every family for every child,” she said.
Dr O’Brien argued that the pervasive misinformation on the safety and efficacy of measles vaccine has allowed for the unwelcomed global measles comeback especially in susceptible areas and communities. Social media companies and community leaders worldwide has been urged to fight the spread of misleading information regarding vaccines, and to take a proactive step in educating the mass using accurate, valid and scientifically credible information.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine are taking the biggest hit from this recent trend as they face their country’s largest measles outbreak in recent times. WHO officials also recognised that the recent measles comeback can also be attributed to the lack of access to vaccination programmes in certain areas and communities around the world.
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