With vaccine rates stalled, measles outbreaks deliver deadly, debilitating impacts worldwide

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DRC, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine account for nearly half of global measles cases

Measles incidence increased in five regions around the world between 2016 and 2018, while deaths from disease rose from 2017 to 2018, data released jointly by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization today show.

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While increased measles vaccine coverage and global measles elimination goals set in 2012 have contributed to a 66% drop in reported measles cases and an estimated 73 percent drop in death rates caused by measles, stalled vaccination rates preceded the surge of measles cases from 2017 to 2018 with cases and outbreaks primarily among unvaccinated populations. Four European countries, Albania, Czechia, Greece and the United Kingdom lost their status of having eliminated measles and ended locally generated outbreaks, and the United States, which reported its highest number of cases in a quarter century nearly did. Measles has its deadliest impacts on children younger than 5 years old, and can also cause lifelong disabilities that include those from brain damage, hearing or vision loss.

While coverage with two doses of measles vaccine across 95% of a country’s population is necessary to prevent outbreaks, vaccine coverage of 86% worldwide has remained flat for nearly a decade.

While factors contributing to increases varied by country, lengthy outbreaks in counties where vaccine access is challenged accounted for the largest numbers of cases. Of 179 reporting countries, just five countries, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine accounted for nearly half of all reported cases in 2018. During that time the Democratic Republic of Congo battled two Ebola outbreaks, the second of which continues and is the second deadliest recorded outbreak of that disease.

International travel has helped fuel imported outbreaks with travelers from Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom sparking outbreaks in Israel, and travelers from Ukraine and Israel sparking outbreaks in the United States.

The data is part of the joint CDC/WHO Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination — Worldwide, 2000-2018 report, included in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released today.

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