Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

Measles is a big killer.

According to the WHO, “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

But it wasn’t that long ago, in 1980, that measles was causing at least 2.6 million deaths a year. And just 17 years ago, in 2000, measles caused about 777,000 deaths worldwide.

Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

While some experts doubt if we will ever truly eradicate measles, like we have done for smallpox, a lot of progress is being made on reducing measles outbreaks and deaths thanks to routine and supplemental immunizations.

Tragically, measles still kills.

“For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.”

CDC – Complications of Measles

And it is not just in developing countries that don’t have access to vaccines or adequate levels of vitamin A or modern healthcare. It should also be obvious, when you look at the cases below, that you don’t have to wait for there to be a 1,000 people in an outbreak for there to be a death. It could be the first person in the outbreak or you might see 3 or deaths between cases 3,000 to 4,000.

During the 2010 and 2011 outbreaks in Europe, after all, with about 30,000 cases of measles each year, there were at least 28 deaths.

There are now 36 deaths in this year's measles outbreaks in Europe.
There are now 37 deaths in this year’s measles outbreaks in Europe.

So far, just this year, according to the ECDC, there are reports of:

  • the death of a 10-month-old unvaccinated child in Bulgaria (among just 163 cases)
  • the death of a 37-year-old partially vaccinated women (the mother of 3 kids) in Essen, Germany (among about 797 cases)
  • the death of a 17-year-old girl who was not vaccinated in Portugal (among just 31 cases)
  • 31 deaths in Romania, almost all unvaccinated children (among 7,491 cases since January 2016)
  • the death of a vaccinated man who was being treated for leukemia in Switzerland (among just 69 cases)
  • three deaths in Italy (among 3,672 cases), including a 6-year-old boy with leukemia who reportedly caught measles from an unvaccinated sibling.

Unfortunately, measles cases continue to rise in most of these countries and many others…

The latest death – a man in Dolj county, Romania, raising the number of measles deaths to 32 in that country.

Outside of the EU, cases of measles and deaths include:

  • 20,898 cases in the DR Congo with at least 241 deaths
  • 2,246 cases in Ethiopia
  • 1,891 cases in South Sudan with at least 16 deaths
  • 1,527 cases in Guinea with at least 2 deaths
  • 10 deaths of children in Bangladesh
  • 40 deaths of infants in Indonesia
  • 13,484 cases in Nigeria with at least 77 deaths

Are you planning a trip to Europe any time soon? How about Indonesia or DR Congo, for which the CDC has also issued travel health notices? Even if you aren’t, as these outbreaks rise, it increases the chances that another traveler will bring measles home and expose someone in your community, starting an outbreak.

And while we deal with folks who simply don’t want to vaccinate and protect their kids, no one should lose sight of the fact that “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

What To Know About Measles Deaths

Kids are still dying of measles and the big take away should be that it doesn’t take thousands of cases for there to be a death and it can happen to a healthy child in a developed country with modern healthcare.

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks

More Information About Measles Deaths

Updated July 24, 2017

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