Here’s What You Need to Know to Stay Safe as a Large Measles Outbreak Hits Europe

Measles, a virus that causes a serious rash in those infected, has been wreaking havoc on Europe over the past year. Now, experts are warning those traveling to any European country to take extreme caution if they are not vaccinated. With the outbreak still going strong, it’s important to know the facts about the outbreak and how to stay safe if you’re traveling.

What is measles?

Measles sample

Measles sample | jarun011/iStock/Getty Images

Measles is a severe rash that is caused by the rubeola virus, and scientists have identified 21 strains. It can take a devastating toll on those who have not been vaccinated. It is spread very easily and quickly through coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks, and nearly any type of physical contact. And though it spreads easily, symptoms usually take somewhere between one and two weeks to appear. Plus, the disease can be contagious up to four days before any symptoms are even present, making it easy to accidentally spread it to friends and family.

Anyone with a weak immune system is at the greatest risk for suffering complications from measles. Complications include vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, and seizures. Less common complications, such as hepatitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) can also occur. If a woman contracts the measles while pregnant, it can lead to a miscarriage, early delivery, or low birth weight.

Europe has had an outbreak on its hands since 2016, and it isn’t subsiding

  • Between April 2017 and April 2018, 13,000 cases of measles were reported across Europe. For perspective, there were only 188 cases in the U.S. in 2015.

Since 2016, 57 people have died from the virus, according to the European Union. And thousands more have been infected. In England, 643 cases have been diagnosed only since the beginning of 2018. And now, Public Health England (PHE) is warning millennials they need to be vaccinated for the virus. PHE warns people from other countries to check that they were vaccinated before traveling to England or Europe.

More than 13,000 cases were reported in Europe between April 2017 and April 2018, and some countries are faring far worse than England. Romania saw the highest number of cases reported between February 2017 and January 2018 with 5,223 cases, but Italy wasn’t far behind with nearly 5,000 cases. Greece and Germany rounded out the top four with 1,400 and 900 cases, respectively. And the outbreak is far from over.

A false connection between autism and vaccines caused a dip in vaccinations that is coming back to haunt Europe

A since-retracted 1998 study done by a man named Andrew Wakefield found a false connection between vaccinations and autism. He essentially started an anti-vaccination movement by convincing parents that vaccinating their children would increase the child’s risk of developing autism. However, the study was disproven, and Wakefield, a former gastrointestinal surgeon, was stripped of his medical license. But tens of thousands of children were left without vaccinations from the days when their parents believed it could lead to developmental problems.

If you’re traveling to Europe, make sure you are vaccinated

family pushing luggage at the airport

A family at the airport | Deklofenak/iStock/Getty Images

Practicing safety measures, such as washing your hands or even wearing a mask, are not necessarily enough to prevent yourself from contracting the virus. The EU and PHE suggest that nobody travel to Europe unless their MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination is up to date. Teens and young adults, the age group that should have been vaccinated in the late 1990s or early 2000s when Wakefield’s study was prominent, are the majority of the cases. It’s important to note that the vaccine can take up to two weeks to become effective in the body, so for those planning a Europe trip, plan the vaccination accordingly. Plus, on rare occasions, one dose of the vaccine does not provide immunity. In about 95% of cases, one dose is enough, but sometimes two are required.

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