In Europe, This 'Canary in a Coal Mine' Is Afoot

Measles is surging, with outbreaks especially prevalent in UK; US also seeing an uptick
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2024 10:10 AM CST
In Europe, This 'Canary in a Coal Mine' Is Afoot
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Marina Demidiuk)

As we get our legs after the COVID tsunami, another set of outbreaks is taking hold, especially in Europe. The BBC reports that measles are cropping up throughout the EU, with a nearly 45-fold spike in cases last year, according to the World Health Organization. The UN agency found that 941 people were infected with the contagious disease in 2022, but in 2023, that number jumped drastically, to 42,200, which the WHO believes is mainly tied to unvaccinated children. The New York Times notes that almost one-third of the reported cases were found in Kazakhstan. As of January, nearly 50 nations are experiencing "large or disruptive outbreaks," per the WHO. The United States has seen around a dozen cases pop up, though health experts remain concerned about the US, as "misinformation about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines has fueled vaccine hesitancy," per the Times.

"This is concerning," WHO regional chief Dr. Hans Kluge tells the BBC, noting almost 21,000 hospitalizations from measles in Europe. "Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this potentially dangerous disease." When parents refuse to get their kids vaccinated, the children themselves aren't the only ones at risk of contracting the illness, whose symptoms include fever, dry cough, and a blotchy skin rash—pregnant women, babies who can't yet be vaccinated, and people who are immunocompromised also are in danger of getting sick. Complications of the disease can include pneumonia, meningitis, seizures, blindness, and even death: In 2022, 136,000 people died across the globe from the illness, a jump of more than 40% from the previous year, per a November report from the WHO and CDC.

Nearly 33 million children in all missed a vaccine, especially in poorer nations, where just 66% of kids received their first dose, per the report. The rise in cases is "likely a legacy of the pandemic," the Times notes, citing Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He notes many didn't go to the doctor during the worst of the pandemic, and "there was just major disruption in getting children back on schedule." Once measles takes hold in a vulnerable community, it's not unusual to see other infectious diseases follow. "Measles is usually the canary in the coal mine," Dr. Saad Omer, dean of the O'Donnell School of Public Health, tells the Times. Officials are now making a renewed push to get people to go for their shots, especially in the UK, where the National Health Service has launched a campaign around it, per the AP. (More measles stories.)

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