Measles cases on the rise in Turkey linked to growing anti-vaccination trend
Mesude Erşan – ISTANBUL
The number of people diagnosed with measles reached 510 in the first nine months of 2018 in Turkey, according to a recent report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), a striking increase from 69 in 2017.
There have not been any deaths caused by measles in Turkey, but experts are having to deal with a rising number of vaccine refusers, urging them to get their children vaccinated in order to prevent outbreaks.
According to an annual report by the Turkish Health Ministry, measles vaccination rate was 97 percent in 2015, 98 percent in 2016, and 96 percent in 2017.
“We have concerns that if our vaccination rate decreases to under 95 percent, not only measles, but other diseases which have been off the grid for years, such as diphtheria and tetanus, might come back,” Professor Mehmet Ceylan, the head of pediatric infectious diseases at Ankara’s Hacettepe Medical Faculty, has told daily Hürriyet.
Ceylan also recalled the measles outbreak of 2013 when 7,415 people were diagnosed with measles in Turkey and said the epidemic was prevented thanks to vaccinations.
“Vaccination is significant because nutrients, vitamin supplements or anything else do not protect people from measles. On top of that, one can be infected via the respiratory tract. Traveling makes [measles] easier to spread,” he added.
The professor also stressed that countries with rising anti-vaccination trends also face an increase in measles cases.
“We need to decrease anti-vaccination trends,” he stressed.
“Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. In order for vaccination to be successful, vaccination rates must be around 98 percent. An unvaccinated person can infect nine more unvaccinated people,” said Esin Şenol, an infectious diseases physician at Ankara’s Gazi University Medical Faculty.
Şenol stressed that if the rate of unvaccinated people keeps increasing in Turkey and their number reaches 50,000 in Turkey, a disastrous epidemic would become inevitable.
“[In such a case] Some 100 people out of 1,000 will need to be hospitalized and 20 will suffer from encephalitis. Any death that could be prevented with vaccination is a death in vain,” the professor said.
An alarming worldwide rise on measles cases are mainly due to growing anti-vaccination sentiments among parents in recent years, experts say.
In recent years, in countries with low rates of vaccination such as Ukraine, Serbia, France, a rapid increase in measles cases were seen.
Only in Ukraine alone, there were 40,000 cases of measles in the past year.
The WHO’s report stated that measles cases caused by refusal to vaccinate has increased worldwide by 31 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that causes the death of many children around the world, even though vaccines are available. The WHO has been implementing a Global Vaccine Action Plan through which it aims to eliminate measles and rubella in five WHO regions by 2020.