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How serious is Switzerland’s measles situation?

Ein Mädchen ist an den Masern erkrankt. Auf ihrem Rücken sieht man rote Flecken.
There have been 23 measles outbreaks in nine cantons in Switzerland since the beginning of the year. Keystone/Urs Flüeler

In 2019, Switzerland has already seen more measles cases than in all of last year. But compared to a decade ago, it's still relatively low.

From the beginning of 2019 until May 6, some 166 measles cases have been reported in Switzerland. That’s more than three times the number for all of 2018, while in the same period last year, just 21 cases were reported.  

This represents an increase in the incidence rate from 2.5 (2018) to 19.5 (2019) cases per million inhabitants.  

So far in 2019, some 62% of cases were endemic to Switzerland, 14% were imported, 8% were related to imported measles, and 16% could not be classified, according to the Federal Office of Public HealthExternal link (FOPH). 

But despite the high number of cases compared to the last five years, the situation is not yet alarming. The number of measles cases in 2019 is still far below the number in 2009 and 2011.  

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Just over a week ago, the FOPH announced that there had been two reported deaths from measles. The first was a 30-year old man, who was not vaccinated and was infected by family members. An attempt to vaccinate after being infected was unsuccessful and the man died shortly afterwards. 

The second case was a 70-year old man who had cancer. It is not known how the man contracted the disease. He died in the hospital a few days after the onset of measles-induced pneumonia. 

Vaccination goal 

The current situation in Switzerland is “fragile”, wrote the FOPH. Measles eradication can only be achieved if at least 95% of kids and all adults born after 1963 have been vaccinated with two doses. The current vaccination rate in the country is 94% and continues to rise. 

In Switzerland vaccination against measles is not compulsory and there are no plans for compulsory vaccination like in Italy and France. 

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Additional measures 

According to the FOPH, major measles outbreaks in cantons Neuchâtel and Bern showed that additional measuresExternal link beyond vaccinations are needed to prevent the spread of the disease. One example is the identification of people who have contracted the disease. 

It is also important to exclude unvaccinated children from schools, boost vaccinations in environments where there are sick people, and vaccinate unvaccinated people immediately after exposure to someone with measles. 

In addition, any travelers who are on a plane with someone who has contracted measles should be informed that they’ve been exposed and take other necessary measures. 

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads via droplets in the air, often from coughing or sneezing. Complications associated with the disease, such as pneumonia and encephalitis, can also arise. Globally, the World Health OrganisationExternal link reported that measles cases rose by 300% in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. 


Adapted from German by Jessica Davis Plüss

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