According to a report from the Measles and Rubella Initiative, the number of measles cases surged in 2017, resulting in an estimated 110,000 deaths worldwide. The initiative is an international partnership of the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The report cites gaps in vaccination coverage for the measles outbreaks. The highest uptick in measles cases occurred in North and South America, the Middle East, and Europe, while incidence of the disease fell in the Western Pacific region.
Measles is preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine, and 95 percent vaccination coverage is considered the threshold to prevent measles outbreaks. However, worldwide coverage for the first dose has stalled at 85 percent, while second dose coverage is at 67 percent. This leaves many people susceptible to measles, which is serious and highly contagious. Babies and young children and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to complications, including encephalitis (brain infection), severe diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections, and vision loss.
“If a single person gets measles, 12 to 18 other people get it, typically babies too young to be vaccinated,” Pediatrician Peter Hotez, MD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Waco, Texas, told NBC News. “The first pop-up disease you see is measles because it is so contagious. Measles is the harbinger of things to come.”