Measles Fear for Ebola-Hit Countries

2015-0316 Measles Fear for Ebola-Hit Countries

MMR vaccination programmes were affected by the outbreak

Ebola-hit countries in West Africa are ripe for a measles outbreak that could infect hundreds of thousands of people, US researchers warn.

More than 10,000 people have died in the largest ever outbreak of the virus.

But a study in the journal Science suggests there could be even more deaths from other diseases because of the devastating impact on the countries’ vaccination programmes.

Experts said an increase in such infections was “likely”.

There have been 24,350 cases of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Many healthcare facilities closed and the fear of Ebola meant people did not show up at those that remained.


It has had a knock-on effect on immunisation campaigns for measles, polio, TB and other diseases.

An international team of scientists tried to estimate the impact on measles protection.

They ran detailed models assuming 75% of vaccination programmes had been disrupted.

The scientists estimated that 20,000 more people were becoming susceptible to measles every month.

At the start of the outbreak they said there were 778,000 unvaccinated children and the total would increase to 1,129,000 after 18 months of the outbreak.

2015-0316 Measles Fear for Ebola-Hit Countries2

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases

Their sophisticated predictions suggested this would translate to an additional 100,000 measles cases, on top of the 127,000 that would be anticipated in a pre-Ebola measles outbreak.

It could lead to 16,000 extra deaths, more than have died from Ebola, the team suggested.

Dr Justin Lessler, of Johns Hopkins University in the US, said: “Measles in particular is known to show up during or after humanitarian crises because it is so infectious.

“The addition of so many unvaccinated children to the already considerable at-risk population significantly increases the likelihood of a major measles outbreak.


“Measles is not the only health threat that has been made worse by the Ebola crisis, and may not even be the most dire, but it is one we can do something about.”

Prof Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, told the BBC News website: “The Ebola virus outbreak has put immense strain on healthcare systems that were already stretched.

“It was always likely that we would see an upturn in other diseases and infections as these creaking systems diverted attention to fight the emerging Ebola virus epidemic.

“These are predictions, and not hard fact, but we shouldn’t be surprised if we see an upturn in measles, as we know that immunisation is key to controlling what can be a very serious infection.

“The real lesson from all of this is the need to build better healthcare systems and to overturn what are significant global health inequalities.”


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