Jan 23, 2012
Measles, which was virtually eradicated in Europe, has come back in force: the number of cases tabulated by doctors in France has continually increased, from 604 in 2008 to 14,000 in 2011.
It isn’t a minor disease, far from it. In France, one person out of five with measles has to be hospitalized, and elderly and frail people sometimes die of it. The disease is very contagious. The virus can be spread through direct contact through sneezes or the coughs of infected people, including by drops suspended in the air, where it remains active for thirty minutes. It can contaminate an entire class, a movie theater or a sporting event.
Fortunately, measles vaccination is very effective: in Africa, big vaccination campaigns succeeded in cutting mortality by 90% from 2000 to 2007. In France, the epidemic is most widespread in areas where the rate of vaccination is the lowest.
Some trends or groups oppose vaccination for religious reasons, and others under the pretext that it’s necessary to develop natural defenses without recourse to vaccines. These ideas are dangerous. In most European countries infected people can rapidly be hospitalized and taken care of, but this isn’t the case in the rest of the world. Among populations strongly affected by malnutrition, up to 10% of measles cases are fatal and the complications from the disease can lead to blindness or severe diseases like encephalitis. For people infected with HIV, the consequences are still worse.
The World Health Organization says, “In countries where measles has mostly been eliminated, imported cases remain an important source of infection.” Genetic studies of the virus show that the virus that began in France wound up in Germany, Denmark, Russia and Romania. Virus of Swiss origin is found in the shanty towns of Latin America. And measles returns to Africa today, in part due to the virus imported from Europe.
This shows the global importance of vaccination, and the completely individualistic irresponsibility of those in the rich countries who would risk the lives of people around the world.