Rise in Global Measles Cases

Posted by on Mar 13, 2024 in Health, Stuff You Should Know

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. This agency works to promote health, keep the world safe from health emergencies, and support countries in achieving better health outcomes for all people. Recently, the WHO issued a warning that measles is spreading worldwide.  

What Is Measles? 

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that mostly affects children but can also affect adults. The disease spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and it can be spread even before symptoms appear. Symptoms typically include a high fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a distinctive rash that spreads across the body. Measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, brain swelling, and even death. Young children or those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable.  

Since a measles vaccine was developed in 1963, the disease is considered one of the most preventable. However, a recent surge in the number of measles cases has medical experts worried.   

Measles Around the World 

Vaccination for booster shot for MMR Measless, Mumps and Rubella
Global cases of measles are rising.

In 2023, there was a significant increase in measles cases, with over 306,000 reported globally. This marks a 79 percent rise from the previous year. Measles is more widespread in regions of the world where vaccination rates are low. Countries in Africa and Asia experience the highest number of measles cases, often due to limited access to healthcare and vaccination programs. Additionally, conflict-affected areas and regions with weak health systems are especially vulnerable to measles outbreaks. Brazil, India, Madagascar, and Ukraine have experienced large outbreaks of the disease within the previous five years. 

Measles in the United States 

Measles was declared eradicated, or wiped out, in the United States over 20 years ago. In the 1980s, all 50 states required students to be vaccinated for measles before they could enter school. But measles is making a comeback in the United States, largely due to declining vaccination rates.  

Recent investigations revealed that thousands of schools across the country have vaccination rates below the recommended level, putting communities at risk. In some cases, clusters of measles cases have already been identified, indicating the potential for larger outbreaks.  Experts emphasize the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates to achieve herd immunity and prevent the spread of measles. Herd immunity is when a large portion of the population is vaccinated against a disease. This makes it difficult for the disease to spread and protects those who cannot be vaccinated. 

Future Outbreaks 

The WHO anticipates more challenges in controlling measles outbreaks, especially in regions with high numbers of unvaccinated children. Data from various sources indicate that many countries are at risk of experiencing measles outbreaks this year, highlighting the urgent need for vaccination efforts to protect public health. 

Dig Deeper Investigate the campaign that successfully ended measles in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Research and discuss the strategies used during this time. How did public health officials, communities, and government agencies collaborate to achieve this goal? Summarize what you learned and discuss it with a classmate.