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HomeHealth & Medical NewsMeasles Surge in Europe Raises Concerns of Outbreaks Looming in Canada

Measles Surge in Europe Raises Concerns of Outbreaks Looming in Canada

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Global travel, slumping vaccination rates have led to post-pandemic infections surge

Following a dramatic surge in measles cases across Europe, health experts are sounding the alarm, cautioning that Canada may soon face similar outbreaks. The exponential rise in measles incidents in Europe, with over 42,200 reported cases last year across more than 40 countries, marks a staggering increase from previous years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, the situation is dire, with nine million known cases and 136,000 reported deaths in 2022, predominantly among children. The WHO warns that the escalating cases in Europe are expected to persist without urgent intervention, including robust vaccination campaigns.

Dr. Kate O’Brien, a Canadian pediatric infectious diseases specialist and director of the WHO’s department of vaccines and immunization, underscores the severity of measles, emphasizing that it poses significant risks and should not be underestimated.

In Canada, measles was eliminated in 1998 through widespread vaccination programs. However, with global travel facilitating the spread of infections and vaccination rates falling below the threshold required for herd immunity, the risk of outbreaks remains.

Despite a relatively low annual case count in Canada — with only a dozen confirmed infections reported country-wide in 2023 — experts warn that the country has not achieved the 95 per cent vaccination coverage needed to prevent measles transmission effectively.

Dr. Charles Hui, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, highlights the decline in immunization rates during the pandemic, leaving gaps in population immunity. Routine immunization rates plummeted across Canada as healthcare resources were redirected towards managing the COVID-19 crisis.

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The highly contagious nature of measles presents a significant challenge, with one infected individual capable of spreading the virus to 12 to 18 others. Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, division head of infectious diseases at McMaster Children’s Hospital, stresses the importance of catching up on missed vaccinations and encouraging vaccine uptake to mitigate the risk of outbreaks.

With global travel remaining a key concern, recent cases in Canada linked to international travel underscore the potential for imported cases to spark local outbreaks. Dr. Shelly Bolotin, director of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases, urges travelers to plan ahead and consider early immunization for infants traveling to regions with extensive measles circulation.

While Canada’s federal government issues warnings for travelers about the risk of measles outbreaks worldwide, health experts emphasize the critical importance of vaccination in preventing the spread of this highly contagious disease.

As concerns mount over the potential for measles outbreaks in Canada, health authorities stress the need for comprehensive vaccination efforts and public health measures to safeguard communities against this preventable yet potentially deadly infection.

Despite Canada’s historical success in eliminating measles, complacency and declining vaccination rates pose a significant threat to public health. A study on population immunity in Ontario, published in 2019, found that nearly eight per cent of blood samples had antibody levels below the threshold needed to ward off a measles infection, indicating waning immunity in some age groups despite high vaccine coverage.

Furthermore, recent data from 2021 reveals that only 79 per cent of children had received two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine by their seventh birthday, falling short of Canada’s target of 95 per cent coverage for that age group. This decline in vaccination rates is concerning, as it increases the susceptibility of communities to measles outbreaks, especially among children who are particularly vulnerable to severe complications.

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The resurgence of measles in Europe serves as a stark reminder of the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates to prevent the reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Dr. O’Brien emphasizes the safety and effectiveness of measles vaccines, which have a roughly 97 per cent efficacy rate and have averted over 56 million deaths globally in the past two decades.

In light of the ongoing threat posed by measles outbreaks, Dr. Bolotin urges individuals to ensure they are adequately protected against the virus, as exposure can occur even in regions without ongoing outbreaks. With this outbreak occurring in every region of the world, travelers are advised to prioritize vaccination to minimize the risk of infection and prevent the spread of measles within Canada.

 

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