ECDC warns of rising measles cases amid vaccination gaps

mmr vaccine

Samara Heisz / iStock

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) today warned of a continuing rise in measles in the coming months, due to a spike in cases at the end of 2023 that has continued into the new year, suboptimal vaccine coverage, and the approach of the seasonal peak of the virus.

The group said the rise in cases is mainly due to drops in measles-containing vaccine coverage that occurred during the 2020-2022 COVID-19 pandemic period. Global activity has spiked, fueling a rise in travel-related cases, with Yemen, India, and Ethiopia reporting the most cases in 2023. In Europe, measles activity picked up in 2023, with outbreaks reported in Romania, Austria, and France.

7 deaths from 2 countries

So far this year, the ECDC has recorded an increasing number of countries reporting cases, with 2,361 reported so far, 5.4% of them imported. At least seven deaths have been reported, six from Romania and one from Ireland.

Though measles-containing vaccine coverage didn't decline as much in Europe during the pandemic as in some other parts of the world, many European countries are below the 95% coverage needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination.

ECDC officials urged countries to close vaccine gaps, boost measles surveillance, increase awareness among healthcare workers, and promote vaccine acceptance within communities with tailored interventions.

Last month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert urging health providers to be on the lookout for cases, due to an ongoing global rise in measles spread. In a brief update yesterday, it said as of February 15, 20 cases have been reported from 11 states.

European scientists ID variant that may reduce test sensitivity

Earlier this month in Eurosurveillance, Swiss researchers reported the identification of a measles variant with mutations that resulted in a slight loss in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test sensitivity, which could result in a false negative in samples with a low viral load. They said the variant has been detected in 18 countries since December 2021, and the numbers seem to be declining, though circulation continues.

Yesterday in the latest issue of the same journal, Italian researchers published a letter to the editor describing five similar detections from Milan and surrounding areas. Viruses were classified as genotype 8, with no clear epidemiologic links between them. Three patients had travel histories that included Uzbekistan, Thailand, and southern Italy. They said their findings confirm the Swiss findings and help raise awareness about variant circulation and the potential for reduced sensitivity to diagnostic tests.

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