Some new reports might provide some insight about this year's measles outlook.
This week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC indicated that there have been at least 25 cases of measles reported to the CDC already this year. We had only seen 21 cases up to this point last year - a year that ended up with the most cases since 1996.
In Europe, a new report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control revealed the final numbers for their 2011 measles outbreak, which included 30,567 cases, 8 deaths, 27 cases of encephalitis, and 1,482 cases of pneumonia, with the highest incidence of cases in infants under 12 months of age. Not surprisingly, most of the cases were in people who were either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.
This is the second year in a row that Europe has reported more than 30,000 measles cases, but there is some hope that the number of cases will be down in 2012. Although 14 countries are already reporting measles cases, indicating the start of the measles season in Europe, the number of cases is down from last year's levels.
With a large outbreak in the Ukraine, 5,127 cases already in 2012, there is already some reasons to worry about the 2012 measles outlook though. In addition to a shortage of routine vaccines, the Ukraine now has "a strong anti-vaccination lobby," which are combining to lower vaccine coverage in the area. That the 14th UEFA European Football Championship (EURO 2012) is being hosted in Poland and Ukraine this summer is causing a concern that this will lead to a risk of spread of measles to travelers from Europe.
Another European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control report also provides some interesting insight into the ups and downs of measles, suggesting that instead of the distinct, major outbreaks that we saw in the pre-vaccine era, in which one case of measles would result in at least 15 new infections, we will start to see slowly propagating outbreaks at longer intervals (like the 2009-11 outbreak in France) if we continue to have suboptimal immunization rates.
Should you care how many measles cases there are in Europe or other parts of the world? Remember that all of the measles outbreaks in the United States start with cases from outside the country, so yes we should all be concerned. The more cases they have and the more unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated people that are here, then the more chances we will continue to see measles outbreaks in the United States too.
Fortunately, a plan is in place to eliminate measles by 2015 in the WHO European Region. What is your plan to keep your family safe from measles?