Cases of measles around the world doubled – yep, doubled – last year.
While there were around 170,000 reported measles cases in 2017, last year had well over 229,000 cases, according to new projections by the World Health Organization (WHO) this week. These are currently provisional figures for 2018 and the final figure is expected to be over 50 percent higher than in 2017.
Measle vaccinations resulted in an 80 percent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017 worldwide. However, much of this progress is now slipping. Professor Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s Director of Immunization and Vaccines, told reporters on February 14 that the world is now “backsliding” in its attempts to halt the spread of measles.
“Our data are showing that there is a substantial increase in measles cases,” said Professor O’Brien. “We’re seeing this in all regions, this is not an isolated problem. A measles outbreak anywhere is a measles problem everywhere.”
“Viruses and other germs don't have passports, they don’t care about geographic borders… They are agnostic to our political and geographical environments.”
She added that fewer than 10 percent of actual measles cases are reported, so the real figure is actually “in the millions.”
Measles is a highly contagious, yet fully preventable, viral disease that causes fever, rashes, a cough, diarrhea, and an array of other symptoms. Last year, it was responsible for approximately 136,000 deaths around the world.
The increases are being fuelled by outbreaks across every single region of the world. Dr Katrina Kretsinger, head of WHO’s expanded immunization program, cited significant outbreaks in Ukraine, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and Sierra Leone. However, there have also been notable outbreaks in the US and western Europe.
The prime cause of the increase is the “failure to vaccinate.” While there are many factors behind this, it is noted that there is a growing distrust of vaccinations based on pure misinformation, especially in richer countries.
“The level of misinformation – the world that we live in now – is causing threats to that success in many parts of the world,” added O’Brien. “There has been an enormous bout of misinformation that has caused damage to the measles effort.”
Much of the skepticism springs from a study in 1998 that associated the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to the onset of autism. The study has since been labeled by other scientists as "fraudulent" and “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years."
The Lancet, who published the study, has since retracted by the study. Andrew Wakefield, the man behind the research, has been barred from practicing as a doctor in the UK after the General Medical Council guilty of “serious professional misconduct.” There have also been calls for him to face criminal charges regarding the research.