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Measles eradicated in the UK, according to WHO

Published on 28/09/17 at 08:35am

The measles virus has been eliminated from the UK for the first time in the country’s history, according to the WHO. Qualification for eradication is defined as a country experiencing 36 months of interrupted endemic transmission of the virus.

This does not mean there have not been isolated cases, as the UK still experiences occasional flare ups, but there have been no widespread cases in a number of years. The evaluation by the WHO coincides with England having hit the target of giving 95% of children vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella by the time of a child’s fifth birthday. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had already previously hit this figure.

The 95% vaccination target is to ensure ‘herd protection’, whereby the population is protected from a spread of the virus by not allowing the virus the opportunity to spread between unvaccinated individuals, as they are too few and far between.

The inclusion of the UK means that 42 out of 53 countries in the European region have managed to interrupt the transmission of measles. In total, 37 countries have managed this feat for the last 12 months.

“This Region has eradicated polio, eliminated malaria and drastically reduced the transmission of measles and rubella. With continued commitment and hard work we will be the generation that also eliminates measles and rubella from the remaining endemic corners of this Region,” says Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director for Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases of WHO/Europe. “This is not only our contribution but also our obligation to the generations that follow us.”

The WHO stressed that there is still more to be done, including pointing out that regions whose vaccination coverage falls below 95% are much more likely to be hit by cases of measles. The body calculated that more than 11,000 cases of measles have been reported through the European region so far this year.

It recommends that immunisation coverage needs to increase to ensure this number falls. This will mean encouraging those who are still wary of vaccination to be educated on the benefits. Some of the concern regarding vaccination originates from a fabricated study by former doctor Andrew Wakefield that suggested there were links between vaccination and autism, a now widely discredited conclusion.

Ben Hargreaves

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