Despite the availability of a safe, effective vaccination, measles outbreaks are continuing to spread across Europe, warned the agency.
The majority of fatalities were in Romania, where 31 people have died after catching the infectious disease, which causes sore eyes, rashes and cold-like symptoms and can lead to serious complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and deafness.
Since June 2016, there have also been two measles-related deaths in Italy, including the most recent victim of the disease, a six-year-old boy, while local health authorities in Germany and Portugal have each reported one fatality.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said “every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy”.
“We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared.
“Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population.”
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced last week that parents in France will be legally obliged to vaccinate their children from 2018.
He said it was “unacceptable” that children are “still dying of measles” in the country where some of the earliest vaccines were pioneered.
All the vaccines which are universally recommended by health authorities – 11 in total – will now be compulsory in France.
The move follows a similar initiative in Italy, which recently banned non-vaccinated children from attending state schools.
Anti-vaccine movements, whose followers are known as anti-vaxxers, are believed to have contributed to low rates of immunisation against the highly contagious disease in a number of countries.
In 1998 the British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a controversial and since-discredited study in The Lancet, which purported to show a link between the MMR vaccine – for measles, mumps and rubella – and autism in children.
Exhaustive scientific research, including a comprehensive 2014 review using data from more than 1.2 million children, have since concluded that no relationship between vaccination and autism.
Dr Wakefield was struck off the medical register after his report was found to be fraudulent.
However, many parents still choose not to vaccinate their children, with around 24,000 children in England each year at risk of measles, mumps and rubella because they have not been immunised against the diseases, according to Public Health England.
Health news in pictures
Long commutes carry health risks
Hours of commuting may be mind-numbingly dull, but new research shows that it might also be having an adverse effect on both your health and performance at work. Longer commutes also appear to have a significant impact on mental wellbeing, with those commuting longer 33 per cent more likely to suffer from depression
You cannot be fit and fat
It is not possible to be overweight and healthy, a major new study has concluded. The study of 3.5 million Britons found that even “metabolically healthy” obese people are still at a higher risk of heart disease or a stroke than those with a normal weight range
When you feel particularly exhausted, it can definitely feel like you are also lacking in brain capacity. Now, a new study has suggested this could be because chronic sleep deprivation can actually cause the brain to eat itself
Exercise classes offering 45 minute naps launch
David Lloyd Gyms have launched a new health and fitness class which is essentially a bunch of people taking a nap for 45 minutes. The fitness group was spurred to launch the ‘napercise’ class after research revealed 86 per cent of parents said they were fatigued. The class is therefore predominantly aimed at parents but you actually do not have to have children to take part
‘Fundamental right to health’ to be axed after Brexit, lawyers warn
Tobacco and alcohol companies could win more easily in court cases such as the recent battle over plain cigarette packaging if the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is abandoned, a barrister and public health professor have said.
‘Thousands dying’ due to fear over non-existent statin side-effects
A major new study into the side effects of the cholesterol-lowering medicine suggests common symptoms such as muscle pain and weakness are not caused by the drugs themselves
Babies born to fathers aged under 25 have higher risk of autism
New research has found that babies born to fathers under the age of 25 or over 51 are at higher risk of developing autism and other social disorders. The study, conducted by the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai, found that these children are actually more advanced than their peers as infants, but then fall behind by the time they hit their teenage years.
Cycling to work ‘could halve risk of cancer and heart disease’
Commuters who swap their car or bus pass for a bike could cut their risk of developing heart disease and cancer by almost half, new research suggests – but campaigners have warned there is still an “urgent need” to improve road conditions for cyclists.
Cycling to work is linked to a lower risk of developing cancer by 45 per cent and cardiovascular disease by 46 per cent, according to a study of a quarter of a million people.
Walking to work also brought health benefits, the University of Glasgow researchers found, but not to the same degree as cycling.
Ketamine helps patients with severe depression ‘when nothing else works’ doctors say
Ketamine helps patients with severe depression ‘when nothing else works’ doctors say
Playing Tetris in hospital after a traumatic incident could prevent PTSD
Scientists conducted the research on 71 car crash victims as they were waiting for treatment at one hospital’s accident and emergency department. They asked half of the patients to briefly recall the incident and then play the classic computer game, the others were given a written activity to complete. The researchers, from Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Oxford, found that the patients who had played Tetris reported fewer intrusive memories, commonly known as flashbacks, in the week that followed
Measles outbreak spreads across Europe as parents shun vaccinations, WHO warns
Major measles outbreaks are spreading across Europe despite the availability of a safe, effective vaccine, the World Health Organisation has warned.
Anti-vaccine movements are believed to have contributed to low rates of immunisation against the highly contagious disease in countries such as Italy and Romania, which have both seen a recent spike in infections. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said it was “of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe” when they had been dropping for years
Vaping backed as healthier nicotine alternative to cigarettes after latest study
Vaping has been given an emphatic thumbs up by health experts after the first long-term study of its effects in ex-smokers.
After six months, people who switched from real to e-cigarettes had far fewer toxins and cancer-causing substances in their bodies than continual smokers, scientists found
Common method of cooking rice can leave traces of arsenic in food, scientists warn
Millions of people are putting themselves at risk by cooking their rice incorrectly, scientists have warned.
Recent experiments show a common method of cooking rice — simply boiling it in a pan until the water has steamed out — can expose those who eat it to traces of the poison arsenic, which contaminates rice while it is growing as a result of industrial toxins and pesticides
Contraceptive gel that creates ‘reversible vasectomy’ shown to be effective in monkeys
An injectable contraceptive gel that acts as a ‘reversible vasectomy’ is a step closer to being offered to men following successful trials on monkeys.
Vasalgel is injected into the vas deferens, the small duct between the testicles and the urethra. It has so far been found to prevent 100 per cent of conceptions
Shift work and heavy lifting may reduce women’s fertility, study finds
Women who work at night or do irregular shifts may experience a decline in fertility, a new study has found.
Shift and night workers had fewer eggs capable of developing into healthy embryos than those who work regular daytime hours, according to researchers at Harvard University
Breakfast cereals targeted at children contain ‘steadily high’ sugar levels since 1992 despite producer claims
A major pressure group has issued a fresh warning about perilously high amounts of sugar in breakfast cereals, specifically those designed for children, and has said that levels have barely been cut at all in the last two and a half decades
Fight against pancreatic cancer takes ‘monumental leap forward’
Scientists have made a “monumental leap forward” in the treatment of pancreatic cancer after discovering using two drugs together dramatically improved patients’ chances of living more than five years after diagnosis.
Japanese government tells people to stop overworking
The Japanese government has announced measures to limit the amount of overtime employees can do – in an attempt to stop people literally working themselves to death.
A fifth of Japan’s workforce are at risk of death by overwork, known as karoshi, as they work more than 80 hours of overtime each month, according to a government survey.
Over-cooked potatoes and burnt toast ‘could cause cancer’
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a public warning over the risks of acrylamide – a chemical compound that forms in some foods when they are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C).
Cervical cancer screening attendance hits 19 year low
Cervical screening tests are a vital method of preventing cancer through the detection and treatment of abnormalities in the cervix, but new research shows that the number of women using this service has dropped to a 19 year low.
High blood pressure may protect over 80s from dementia
The ConversationIt is well known that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia, so the results of a new study from the University of California, Irvine, are quite surprising. The researchers found that people who developed high blood pressure between the ages of 80-89 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) over the next three years than people of the same age with normal blood pressure.
Most child antidepressants are ineffective and can lead to suicidal thoughts
The majority of antidepressants are ineffective and may be unsafe, for children and teenager with major depression, experts have warned. In what is the most comprehensive comparison of 14 commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs to date, researchers found that only one brand was more effective at relieving symptoms of depression than a placebo. Another popular drug, venlafaxine, was shown increase the risk users engaging in suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide
‘Universal cancer vaccine’ breakthrough claimed by experts
Scientists have taken a “very positive step” towards creating a universal vaccine against cancer that makes the body’s immune system attack tumours as if they were a virus, experts have said. Writing in Nature, an international team of researchers described how they had taken pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in the advanced stages of the disease. The patients’ immune systems responded by producing “killer” T-cells designed to attack cancer. The vaccine was also found to be effective in fighting “aggressively growing” tumours in mice, according to researchers, who were led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany
Green tea could be used to treat brain issues caused by Down’s Syndrome
A compound found in green tea could improve the cognitive abilities of those with Down’s syndrome, a team of scientists has discovered. Researchers found epigallocatechin gallate – which is especially present in green tea but can also be found in white and black teas – combined with cognitive stimulation, improved visual memory and led to more adaptive behaviour. Dr Rafael de la Torre, who led the year-long clinical trial along with Dr Mara Dierrssen, said: “The results suggest that individuals who received treatment with the green tea compound, together with the cognitive stimulation protocol, had better scores in their cognitive capacities”
Taking antidepressants in pregnancy ‘could double the risk of autism in toddlers’
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy could almost double the risk of a child being diagnosed with autism in the first years of life, a major study of nearly 150,000 pregnancies has suggested. Researchers have found a link between women in the later stages of pregnancy who were prescribed one of the most common types of antidepressant drugs, and autism diagnosed in children under seven years of age
Warning over Calpol
Parents have been warned that giving children paracetamol-based medicines such as Calpol and Disprol too often could lead to serious health issues later in life. Leading paediatrician and professor of general paediatrics at University College London, Alastair Sutcliffe, said parents were overusing paracetamol to treat mild fevers. As a result, the risk of developing asthma, as well as kidney, heart and liver damage is heightened
Connections between brain cells destroyed in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists have pinpointed how connections in the brain are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, in a study which it is hoped will help in the development of treatments for the debilitating condition. At the early stages of the development of Alzheimer’s disease the synapses – which connect the neurons in the brain – are destroyed, according to researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The synapses are vital for brain function, particularly learning and forming memories
A prosthetic hand that lets people actually feel through
The technology lets paralysed people feel actual sensations when touching objects — including light taps on the mechanical finger — and could be a huge breakthrough for prosthetics, according to its makers. The tool was used to let a 28-year-old man who has been paralysed for more than a decade. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way
It is recommended that at least 95 per cent of the population is vaccinated against measles to ensure good protection against outbreaks of the disease.
But coverage is estimated to be lower than this in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.
While measles is no longer endemic in 37 European countries, according to the WHO, “remaining pockets of low immunization coverage allow the highly contagious virus to spread among those who choose not to vaccinate, do not have equitable access to vaccines or cannot be protected through vaccination due to underlying health conditions.”
A recent survey found more than three out of 10 French people don’t trust vaccines, with just 52 per cent of participants saying the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.
And just 85.3 per cent of Italian two-year-olds were given measles vaccinations in 2015, down from 88 per cent in 2013.
Isabelle Sahinovic, the WHO’s Vaccine Safety Net co-ordinator, has said that “dangerous” misinformation about vaccines continues to spread online.
“Every day, misinformation about vaccines continues to proliferate on the internet,“ she said. ”This is dangerous.
“We need to make sure that all parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals can easily access accurate and trustworthy information about vaccines.“
In Romania, where under 80 per cent of the population are vaccinated against measles, according to the Health Minister, anti-vaccination campaigns have been led by religious organisations and public figures.
Romanian celebrity Olivia Steer, a former TV presenter who is married to another TV star, has called vaccines a “myth”, saying on television that they are not necessary and can cause health problems including autism.
Poverty and lack of access to health services could also be behind increased outbreaks of measles in the country, with the WHO warning of “the largest measles outbreak recorded in recent years in the country”.
“Romania is facing critical vaccine shortages or delays, including of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, along with a substantial drop in immunisation coverage,” the organisation said.
- More about:
- World Health Organisation
- infectious diseases
Do you have an unusual story to tell? E-mail email@example.com