Worldwide measles cases almost quadruple in first quarter of 2019: WHO

Geneva: The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 against the same period last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, citing provisional data.

The is no scientific evidence to support anti-vaccination claims that measles, mumps and rubella vaccines cause autism.Credit:AP

Higher rates of the preventable but contagious disease – which can kill or cause blindness, hearing loss and brain-damage – have been recorded in all regions, the United Nations agency said in a statement, appealing for better vaccination coverage.

Fresh outbreaks have hit the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, "causing many deaths – mostly among young children", the WHO said.

It gave no figures for fatalities but noted it estimates that only one in 10 cases is reported globally.

"Over recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people," the WHO statement said.

Australia is on track for its worst measles rate in five years, with 84 confirmed cases so far in 2019, compared to 103 for the whole of 2018 and 81 in 2017.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked measles experts to design a social media campaign urging Australians to ensure they are vaccinated.

US federal health officials also confirmed on Monday that the number of confirmed cases of measles in the United States this year had jumped by nearly 20 per cent in the week ended April 11 – the country's second-worst outbreak in nearly two decades.

A growing and vocal fringe of parents opposes measles vaccines in the belief – contrary to scientific evidence – that vaccines can cause autism or other disorders.

Increasing vaccination coverage maximises a population's protection, the WHO said. Global coverage with the first dose has "stalled" at 85 per cent, against 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks, while 25 countries still do not include a second dose in their national programmes, it said.


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