The Measles Outbreak Europe 2020 – Things You Need To Know

By | October 14, 2020

Measles is one of the infectious diseases that’s been causing health troubles for many nations including Europe. In 2019, the World Health Organization[1] announced significantly high measles cases reported in 42 countries of the European region. The worst cases number is 13 measles-related deaths in 3 countries, Romania, Albania, and Ukraine, with the latter having the most number of measles cases resulting in death.

Measles Outbreak Europe

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease that causes by a certain virus. It’s a serious disease that can be very fatal, especially among young children. When you get infected by this virus, your body will undergo a series of phases. 

The first phase is infection and incubation, which happens on the first 10 to 14 days when the virus incubates. During this time, symptoms won’t yet show up. 

The second phase is the presence of signs and symptoms, which can be non-specific. Most people who had measles first suffer from a mild fever and accompanied with a persistent cough, inflamed eyes, sore throat, and runny nose. These symptoms  would often last for two to three days.

The third phase is when acute illness and rashes would appear. The rashes consist of tiny red spots, some of which can be slightly raised. In the next few days, the rashes can spread rapidly over the body while the fever can rise drastically. After this period, the rashes slowly fade away starting from the face down to the thighs and feet.

In the first three phases, it’s important to mention that during the communicable period, the disease can actively infect other people in the first four days before the rash appears and another four days since the rash’s first appearance.

What are the risk factors?

There are three risk factors that can pose risks to your health. You need to immediately contact a medical emergency to check If you are exposed to one of 3 factors below: you’ve travelled from countries where measles is common, or you are not vaccinated against measles, or you are deficient in vitamin A. 

Why Measles Outbreak in Europe?

The ongoing measles outbreak in Europe, especially in Ukraine, have been caused by individuals getting the virus from epidemic places. These unprotected individuals did not either vaccinate or know whether they got vaccinated or not.

In fact, most cases in Europe as well as in the US, occurred in unvaccinated or under-vaccinated patients. Under-vaccinated patients did not have updated measles vaccination, which made them less protected from the measle virus.

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The European region still continues to have widely circulated measles infection despite the outbreak response measures because of population immunity gaps[2] and suboptimal vaccination coverage. This is why health organizations and entities continue to advise countries and their respective governments to take precautionary measures.

Country leaders and their health officials should protect their population from measles through high routine and supplemental immunization coverage. Such efforts should be encouraged more since there are no countries that can avoid or prevent importation.

Where is Measles Outbreak in Europe?

Measles Outbreak Europe
Measles Outbreak Europe

The dramatic rise of measles cases in Europe put pressure on the public. There are 42 countries across the European region affected by the said outbreak. Even Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were also in the emergency action response, with each having around 9,000 and 2,000 measles cases respectively.

Measles is already considered to be an epidemic disease[3] in certain parts of Europe. Because the first four countries were hit by a drastic rise in measles cases, the European region is no longer safe from this contagious disease. Health professionals are now alarmed once again and they have been calling for the public’s cooperation since there is a decline in vaccination due to the vaccine hesitancy increase. 

The health organizations are encouraging everyone to do their best along with the government’s outbreak measures. The outbreak response measures include improving immunization, working with family doctors, addressing parents’ questions and concerns about vaccines; calling for a summit meeting for all social media companies to talk about promoting vaccine campaigns pertaining to vaccines.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also continues to release data on their website about the recent measles cases across the region. The health professionals keep reminding everyone that measles does not affect a single age group, but all age groups, hence a much larger vaccination drive is needed.

Of course, you can also check their website for the vaccine schedule, so no one gets left behind every time there is a vaccine drive.

Ukraine Measles

Since January 2012, over 5100 cases have been reported and it is expected that this will increase. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that unvaccinated people traveling to the European Football Championships in Ukraine and Poland who have not previously had measles should take the vaccine in good time before they travel.

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The Ukrainian outbreak is concentrated near the border with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The outbreak then increased in the next few months and spread to more nearby areas. As measles is highly infectious and vaccine coverage in Ukraine is low, there is a high chance of exposure to the measles virus. People who are unvaccinated or are not immune to measles are at significant risk of infection.

Measles Outbreak Europe
Stomach with red rush spots from measles

Measles is the most serious of the childhood diseases in the childhood immunisation programme in Norway. Of the childhood diseases that can be prevented by vaccine, measles is the most common cause of death globally. Young children and children with other diseases are most at risk for serious complications. However, older children and adults can also become seriously ill with measles.

Increased Risk During The European Football Championships In 2012

The risk of contracting measles and other infectious diseases is likely to increase during the European Football Championships (EURO2012) taking place in Poland and Ukraine from the 8th June to 1st July 2012. Large crowds will gather in both football stadiums and city areas, which will promote the spread of infectious diseases.

Vaccination for Measles Outbreak in Ukraine

Vaccine advice 

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that anyone traveling to the Ukraine should be protected against measles, either as a result of previous infection or vaccination. Unvaccinated adults are recommended to take one dose of the MMR vaccine before traveling. Protection against measles is effective two to three weeks after vaccination, so the vaccine should be taken in good time before departure. People who have had measles are immune and do not need to take the vaccine.

Additionally, children can be vaccinated from 9 months of age. If the first MMR vaccine[4] has happened before 12 months of age, the child should receive a second dose at 15 months. 

Vaccination can fight against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio, according to previous research. People who have previously been vaccinated should have a booster dose every 10 years.

Low Vaccine Coverage In Ukraine

In recent years, vaccine coverage in Ukraine has decreased significantly, and according to reports from the WHO / UNICEF in 2010, vaccine coverage was 56 per cent for one dose of MMR vaccine and 41 per cent for two doses. Low vaccine coverage has also been reported for other vaccines (diphtheria-tetanus-whooping cough 52 per cent, polio 58 per cent).

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Measles is highly contagious. The low vaccine coverage in Ukraine means that the measles virus can spread rapidly in the population. It is expected that the ongoing outbreak will spread unless effective vaccination campaigns are conducted in the unvaccinated part of the population. Due to generally low vaccine coverage in Ukraine, there is also the risk of outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases such as rubella (German measles), mumps, polio and diphtheria.

Since the vaccine coverage in Norway is 95 per cent, the risk of an outbreak of measles in this country is small.

In Norway, measles immunization involves two doses of MMR vaccine given at 15 months of age and in the 6th grade in school.


The measles outbreak in Europe calls forth for more serious measures to battle with this contagious disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age and gender. Therefore, everyone should take vaccination with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine for widespread immunity against the said fatal disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should we see a doctor?

Call your doctor immediately if you think that your child has been exposed to measles virus or if your child has rashes that resemble measles rashes. You also need to review your family’s vaccination records before any of your children attends elementary, college, or if anyone in your family is traveling internationally.

How does the measles virus spread?

When someone contracts the disease, the virus replicates in the nose or throat of anyone who is infected. The person who is infected poses great danger to everyone because when he/she coughs, sneezes, or talks, the infected droplets can get into the air and other people can possibly inhale them. If not inhaled, the infected droplets can also fall in certain surfaces where they can stay active and contagious for several hours. You can then get infected when you touch your eyes, nose, mouth, after getting in touch with the infected surface.

What are the possible complications brought by measles?

These are complications you can possibly acquire when you have measles – ear infection, pneumonia, bronchitis, encephalitis, and pregnancy problems for pregnant women.