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Another reason to get your measles vaccine: the disease is surging in Europe

measles economist

(Via The Economist)

This wonderful interactive graphic from the Economist should be a reminder to all Americans: get your measles shots.

Over the last 30 years, the incidence of the disease has dropped dramatically. In 1980, some 2.6 million globally died from measles and by 2013, that number was just 145,700.

But you'll also notice that measles continues to circulate around the world, even in places you don't always think of as hot beds of deadly infectious diseases.

Measles outbreaks have been so bad in Europe — the top regional travel destination for Americans — that the World Health Organization just put out a strong cry to policymakers, health workers and parents, asking them to immediately "step up vaccination against measles."

Between the beginning of 2014 and this month, there were more than 22,000 cases of measles reported on the continent — threatening Europe's goal of eliminating the disease at the end of the year.

This included more than 3,000 cases in Russia, 1,674 in Italy, and nearly 600 cases in Germany (the country's biggest measles outbreak in a decade).

"It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years’ efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time," said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, in a statement.

Measles anywhere means measles everywhere

Last year, more than half of the some 600 measles cases in the US were caused by a single unvaccinated Ohio man returning from the Philippines — where the disease was circulating — and spreading measles to his similarly unimmunized community.

And that's exactly typical of how outbreaks here start. As a CDC examination of measles in the first half of 2014 pointed out, "Of the 288 cases, 280 (97 percent) were associated with importations from at least 18 countries."

When we spoke to Jane Seward, deputy director of the viral diseases division at the CDC, she said that since the epidemic of measles was interrupted in the US in 2000, it's almost always returning travelers who bring back and spread the disease here. "More often than not, it's US residents who go overseas for a trip — to say, Europe, where they don't think they need to be vaccinated. They bring measles back."

So get immunized before you travel, even if you're heading to a country where you don't think of measles. Until this extremely infectious disease is eliminated globally, everyone is at risk.

To learn about measles, read the 9 things everybody should know and our vaccines cardstack.