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Measles: a deadly killer that EU countries have failed to eliminate

It's worst in Italy and Romania.

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Measles: a deadly killer that EU countries have failed to eliminate

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To some it’s a common part of childhood but it’s also one of the most deadly diseases among infants around the world.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, took time out from describing his vision of the future of Europe to address the issue of measles in his State of the Union speech last week.

“Children in Romania or Italy must have the same access to measles vaccines as other children right across Europe. No ifs, no buts. This is why we are working with all Member States to support national vaccination efforts. Avoidable deaths must not occur in Europe,” he said.

Those deaths are indeed occurring as mothers like Laura Lisita can testify.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an agency of the European Union, reported that from 1 January 2016 to end July 2017, there were more than 17 000 measles cases with 40 deaths attributed to the disease in the European Economic Area. The bulk of those are in Romania and Italy.

The latest weekly report from the National Centre for Surveillance and Control of Transmissible Disease in Romania (CNSCBT) reported 129 measles cases last week.

According to the World Health Organisation, measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally. Approximately 134 200 people died from measles in 2015 worldwide, mostly children under the age of 5.

And yet the disease is entirely preventable with an effective and affordable vaccine, taken in two doses, able to confer high degrees of immunity.

The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage. After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades.

Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 20. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.