Congo declares measles epidemic after cases jump by 700%

The government of Congo has declared an epidemic of measles, after cases jumped by more than 700% during the first four and a half months of 2019 compared with the same period last year.

A nurse prepares MMR vaccine n Rockland County, New York

Figures from the health ministry show that at least 1,500 people have died from measles, over a hundred more than those who have died from Ebola, with some 65,000 suspected cases of measles reported.

Health officials say comprehensive vaccination programmes are the only way to prevent measles spreading out of control.

“To stop the chain of measles transmission and prevent future epidemics, at least 95 percent of the population have to be vaccinated,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said.

The United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign #VaccinesWork in April to counter a backlash against vaccination by some parents in different parts of the world.

More than two million children were vaccinated in April, according to the health ministry, with another immunisation campaign covering a further 1.4 million others set to be launched “in the coming days”.

Measles is an airborne virus that easily spreads through coughing and sneezing. It causes fever, runny nose, coughing, red eyes and sore throat, followed by a rash. An infected person will start being contagious four days before a rash appears and will stop being contagious four days after rash onset, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is preventable by the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.