Measles has exploded in Europe. Doctors say it’s only a matter of time before the disease spreads to Canada

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After measles cases explode in Europe, medical experts say it’s only “a matter of time” before an outbreak occurs in Canada, thanks to rising global travel and low vaccination rates.

The World Health Organization said there were 42,200 cases of measles in more than 40 European countries last year. Announced this week – A more than 40-fold increase from 2022, which saw fewer than 1,000 cases. In December, the organization said he was there More than 20,000 hospitalizations and at least five deaths In the European region.

Globally, the situation is becoming bleaker, with a sharp rise in infection rates in 2022, including nine million known cases and 136,000 reported deaths. Mostly among children.

The rise in cases in Europe has accelerated in recent months, and the upward trend is expected to continue if urgent measures – such as vaccination efforts – are not taken to prevent further spread of this potentially deadly infection, the World Health Organization said.

“It’s not something mild,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, a Canadian pediatric infectious disease specialist and director of the WHO’s vaccine and immunization division. “This is not something to take lightly.”

danger in canada

Canada eliminated measles in 1998 through widespread vaccination programs.

Here the vaccine is given to children as well Two doses of a combined dose It also protects against a range of infections – either measles, mumps and rubella, or measles, mumps, rubella and varicella.

The annual number of cases remains small – only twelve confirmed cases were reported across the country in 2023 – and most cases are now acquired through travel outside the country.

But doctors say the outbreak still poses a risk. Canada, like many other countries, has not reached the 95 per cent vaccination rate required to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Measles is probably the most contagious human virus known, and as a result, in order to prevent measles, vaccination rates need to be really high in the community,” O’Brien said.

“What has happened is that over the course of the pandemic, we have seen a historic decline in immunization rates around the world.”

A mother and daughter wait at a community health center to complete their vaccination schedule, in Caracas, in 2022.
A mother and daughter wait at a community health center in Caracas to complete their vaccination schedule. Approximately 95 percent vaccination coverage is required to prevent its spread. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty)

Catching up on vaccination is crucial

In Europe, coverage with two doses of measles vaccine fell from 92 percent in 2019 to 91 percent by 2022. World Health Organization data shows. Nearly two million infants were not vaccinated against measles in the first two years of the epidemic.

Doctors say this means children are particularly at risk. Measles spreads easily through the air, has a high rate of hospitalization, and can cause a severe cough, high fever, and a raised rash. In more serious cases, it leads to pneumonia, brain damage, Up to three out of every 1,000 infected children die.

Infection can have widespread and sometimes lifelong consequences, including blindness, deafness, and deafness. Or effects on the immune system That makes people vulnerable to other infections.

In the UK, where there have been hundreds of cases in recent months, including 127 infections reported in January alone, health officials are also pointing the finger at “low” vaccination coverage. One in 10 children Starting school in England without protection.

This is similar to Canada. Federal data for 2021 shows that 79% of children Received two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine by their seventh birthday, down from 83 percent in 2019 and 87 percent in 2017.

That suggests nearly two in 10 children have not yet received the full range of immunizations — far from Canada’s goal of 95 per cent coverage for this age group.

“We are now below the level of immunization we need to prevent transmission in Canada,” said Dr. Charles Hoey, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who works with CHEO and the University of Ottawa.

Another study on population immunity in Ontario, It was published in 2019Nearly eight percent of blood samples were found to contain levels of antibodies below the threshold needed to ward off measles infection. This suggests that immunity in some age groups may wane “despite high vaccine coverage.”

Photo of Dr. Charles Hoey, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, who works with CHEO and the University of Ottawa.
The level of measles vaccination in Canada is very low, says Dr. Charles Hoey, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who works with CHEO and the University of Ottawa. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

Doctors warn that the situation is getting worse.

During the pandemic, when doctors’ offices were closed and public health units were linked to COVID-19 screening and testing, routine immunization rates to protect infants and children from serious infections like measles declined across Canada.

“I think the answer is to try to do everything we can to improve vaccination delivery and catch up on all the people who have missed vaccinations during this pandemic, because there are so many of them,” said Dr. David Pernicka, chief of the division of infectious diseases. At McMaster Children’s Hospital.

“Most of these are people who would want to vaccinate their children if they had the time and means to do so.”

Normally, if someone doesn’t cough in our face or shake our hands with snotty fingers, respiratory viruses don’t spread, Pernicka said.

On the other hand, measles is so contagious that if an infected person enters a store and another person who has not been vaccinated enters after two hoursThey can still catch him.

Research suggests that one person infected with measles can spread the disease at a rate of 1 From 12 to 18 others.

“It will be crucial for governments to provide resources for public health and primary care, do everything they can to catch up on all those who have missed vaccinations, and encourage vaccinations among those who have not yet decided to receive them.” He said.

The World Health Organization’s O’Brien also stressed the safety and effectiveness of measles vaccines, which are considered approx 97 percent effective. “Over the past 20 years, we estimate that more than 56 million deaths have been averted as a result of measles vaccination worldwide,” she said.

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Travelers bring it home

Global travel remains a major concern for doctors. In recent weeks, several Canadian Public Health Alerts have been issued regarding potential travel-related exposures.

One confirmed case in a Saskatoon resident, who became infected through international travel, may have exposed others at various stores, on campus and in a hospital emergency room. Meanwhile, a confirmed case has been linked to the Windsor, Ontario, area Potential exposures at Toronto’s bustling Pearson International Airport.

“The 12 cases coming from Canada last year were all imported cases, which is a concern in itself,” Hui said. “But the concern would be if we import cases, and they come into contact with people who don’t have immunity, then we will have transmission within Canada.”

He added that it was likely “just a matter of time” before cases linked to foreign travel lead to an outbreak.

Dr. Shelley Bolotin, director of the Center for Vaccine-Preventive Diseases, urged families heading overseas for spring break to plan ahead, even if they are heading to places where there are no outbreaks of measles or other vaccine-preventable diseases.

In this photo taken on Thursday, March 21, 2019, a volunteer nurse examines 6-month-old Sarubidi, who has measles, while her mother, Nevaliana Razaigaviswa, looks on, at a health care center in Larentsina, Madagascar.
A volunteer nurse examines a six-month-old child with measles in Larentina, Madagascar. Canadian public health officials say people traveling around the world should make sure they get vaccinated. (Letitia Bezin/Associated Press)

“We can also be exposed to the virus at the airport,” said Bolotin, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Typically, infants receive the first dose of measles vaccine at 12 months of age. But if a child is six months or older and goes to a place where measles is widespread, parents should discuss early immunization.

Federal government in Canada It has an ongoing global measles notification for travellersPointing out that outbreaks are “occurring in every region of the world,” making any unprotected person at risk of infection while travelling.

“That’s why it’s so important for everyone to be protected against measles,” O’Brien said. “Because you don’t know where that exposure is going to come from.”

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