Approximately 6,500 cases of measles have been reported in 30 countries in WHO’s European Region during the first few months of 2011, according to a WHO press release issued today.

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The outbreak occurs as Europe celebrates European Immunization Week (EIW), from April 23 to April 30. This year, more than 50 countries will take part in the initiative, the largest number since the event began in 2005.

France faces the largest outbreak, with 4,937 measles cases officially reported from January to March, which is close to the 5,090 cases reported for all of 2010. The national immunization system is implementing measures to immunize children during the outbreak, including infants at aged 9 months, which follows WHO recommendations for a measles outbreak. A measles vaccine is also being offered to all unimmunized and under-immunized people aged 9 months and older.

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Ghent is considered the hot spot of this outbreak, where the measles virus is primarily affecting children aged younger than 1 year.

Students of anthroposophic schools (unimmunized due to beliefs) are also being disproportionately affected, according to WHO. Other significant outbreaks are taking place in Serbia, Spain (Andalusia), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. The national surveillance system has reported 100 cases of measles in Belgium during 2011, in contrast to 40 measles cases reported in the country during all of last year.

Outbreaks and the further spread of measles are likely to continue, as long as people remain unimmunized or do not get immunized on time according to the routine immunization schedule. An increase in international travel during the Easter holidays will further increase the risk of exportation and importation of measles, according to WHO.

This is yet another reminder…when parents elect not to vaccinate their children, public health in the region and country suffer.