The latest measles outbreak information shows that while very few measles cases were observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now being reported by countries that had previously eliminated or interrupted endemic measles transmission.
The World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund, have said five countries with the largest measles outbreaks are Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
A joint statement issued by WHO and UNICEF noted that the globally reported cases of measles increased by 79% in the first two months of 2022, adding that it could give room for the spread of other related diseases.
In a report, the UN agencies stated that the increase is a worrying sign of a heightened risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and could trigger larger outbreaks, particularly measles affecting millions of children this year.
As of June 13, 2022, the US CDC’s latest ranking indicated that India (5,874) and Nigeria (17,794) have reported the most measles cases in 2022.
The NCDC noted that in 2021, a total of 15,792 suspected cases were reported across 683 local government areas.
“Thirteen LGAs across eight states have recorded an outbreak of measles in 2022. The states are Jigawa, Katsina, Rivers, Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Osun and Sokoto.
“There is an ongoing outbreak of suspected measles cases in Zamfara, but this is awaiting confirmation due to the stock out of measles testing reagents in the country.
“Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara and Anambra accounted for 55.2% of the 908 suspected cases reported so far. Up to 58.7% of the confirmed cases have not received a dose of measles vaccine,” it added.
Just last week, about 50 children were feared dead following a measles outbreak in Kugbo Clan of Abua/Odual LGA of Rivers State.
The disease, first reported in Amurouttoru-Kugbo Community, spread to Emago-Kugbo and Akani-Kugbo communities leading to the death of several children in the three areas.
According to WHO, in 2018, about 140,000 people died from measles worldwide. The majority of deaths are registered in countries with low income and weak health facilities.
What is measles?
Measles is an airborne disease that can cause white spots known as Koplik’s spots to appear in the mouth and a flat red rash to spread across the body.
As recently as the mid-20th century, before the development of a vaccine, nearly every person could expect to be infected with the measles virus in their lifetime. The introduction of a vaccine in the mid-1960s dramatically cut the incidence of measles.
Measles outbreaks are declared when the number of cases reported in an area is higher than the expected number of cases.
Measles is extremely contagious. Around nine out of 10 people who are not protected will become infected following exposure to the measles virus.
Measles is very easily transmitted from person to person in the droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can stay in the air for hours.
People who have had measles don’t ever get it again.
Signs and symptoms
Measles often begins with a runny nose, high fever, runny eyes and a cough, followed by a rash.
The virus infects cells throughout the body, but specifically kills cells of the immune system which the body uses to fight infection. This makes it harder to fight off common infections that cause pneumonia or diarrhoea.
During and just after measles infection, individuals are more likely to get very ill or even die from secondary infections that would otherwise be relatively harmless.
In rare cases, measles infection can lead to neurological complications that result in deafness or blindness.
Vaccination prior to exposure remains the single most effective way to prevent measles disease. Successful vaccination against measles in childhood should provide lifetime protection. Two doses are recommended for each child to ensure at least one is successful.
As of April 2022, 57 vaccine-preventable disease campaigns in 43 countries that were scheduled to take place since the start of the pandemic are still postponed, impacting 203 million people, most of whom are children. Of these, 19 are measles campaigns, which put 73 million children at risk of measles due to missed vaccinations.
Speaking, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted immunization services, health systems have been overwhelmed, and we are now seeing a resurgence of deadly diseases including measles. For many other diseases, the impact of these disruptions to immunization services will be felt for decades to come.
“Now is the moment to get essential immunization back on track and launch catch-up campaigns so that everybody can have access to these life-saving vaccines.”
Measles infection can be easily managed with prompt health care and symptom management.