Measles continues to spread in global outbreaks, with the first 6 months of 2019 producing more measles cases than any year since 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a new report on measles activity in the first half of 2019.

Between Jan 1 and Jul 31, 2019, 182 countries reported 364,808 measles cases to the WHO. During the same period last year, 129,239 measles cases were reported from 181 countries. These cases represent a 10-fold increase in the WHO’s African region, a twofold increase in the European region, and a threefold increase in the Western Pacific Region.

“There have been almost three times as many cases reported to date in 2019 as there were at this same time last year,” the WHO said. “This follows successive yearly increases since 2016, indicating a concerning and continuing upsurge in the overall measles burden worldwide.”

Countries reporting the most measles activity include Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Madagascar. Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, and Thailand are also reporting major outbreaks.

Most of those countries are seeing outbreaks because they have very low vaccination rates, the WHO said. But even countries with high vaccine coverage are seeing more measles activity.

“The United States has reported its highest measles case count in 25 years. In the WHO European region, there have been close to 90,000 cases reported for the first six months of this year: this exceeds those recorded for the whole of 2018 (84,462) – already the highest in this current decade,” WHO said.

In the United States, current measles outbreaks have been linked to international travel and travelers from Israel, the Philippines, and Ukraine.

Credit: CDC

Measles is so contagious it requires a high community level vaccination rate – 95% – to prevent sustained transmission. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is effective and widely available as part of national vaccination programs.

But globally, WHO estimates only 86% children have received the first dose of measles vaccine and 69% the second in 2019.

Read more at CIDRAP…