The number of confirmed measles infections around the world is likely to remain high this year. By the beginning of April, 94,481 cases had been registered, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). They were presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID Global Congress) in Barcelona. Accordingly, there could be at least as many confirmed infections in 2024 as there were last year.

In 2023, a good 320,000 people were proven to have been infected with measles. This corresponded to an increase of around 88 percent compared to the previous year. However, the vast majority of measles cases do not even appear in the statistics. The number of documented cases for 2022 is 171,153, but the number of estimated cases is nine million. According to WHO estimates, 136,000 people died from measles that year, mostly children under the age of five.

Measles is a life-threatening viral infectious disease that can be prevented through vaccination. Overall, the number of reported infections fluctuates significantly from year to year. In 2019 there were more than half a million, in the second pandemic year of 2021 there were only around 60,000.

WHO Europe region particularly affected

Of the cases registered worldwide this year, 45 percent were in the WHO Europe region. The highest number of cases per capita were in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The WHO also includes countries such as Israel and Turkey as well as Central Asian countries in the Europe region. Yemen has the highest rate of measles in the world.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 162 cases were reported in Germany by April 21st. For comparison: Last year there were only 10 cases in the same period.

Vaccination helps

According to the WHO, the number of outbreaks is currently increasing worldwide due to inadequate vaccination rates in the population. It is recommended that at least 95 percent of the population receive two doses of the vaccine. Globally, however, the rates are currently only 83 percent for the first dose, and for the second dose it is only 74 percent.

In the case of measles, the aim is actually to eradicate it. According to the RKI, it is one of the most contagious diseases in humans. This is transmitted, among other things, via droplets and aerosols that arise when speaking, coughing and sneezing. The reddish-brown rash that is considered characteristic of measles only appears in the second phase of the disease. Beforehand, those affected usually have symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and headache. Once you have had the illness, you are usually immune for life.

The possible complications of a measles infection include brain inflammation, which, according to the RKI, affects around one in 1,000 sick people. Even rarer, but usually fatal, is severe encephalitis SSPE, which occurs years after the measles infection.