The number of measles cases in the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization as a whole is down significantly through the first six months of 2015 compared to the same period last year.

Face of child with measles. Image/CDC
Face of child with measles. Image/CDC

The latest data from the UN health agency shows that this area of Asian-Pacific region has seen a decrease in measles cases from nearly 141,000 cases from Jan. 1 to June 30 2014 to just 104,000 for the same period this year.

Some countries have seen little difference from 2014 to 2015 like China (83,205 vs 79,499), while other countries have seen huge differences.

The one nation that has seen a huge increase in measles this year is Mongolia. During the first six months of 2014, they reported a mere 86 cases. Contrast this to the same period in 2015 where Mongolia has reported 17,580 cases. This is up from approximately 3,000 cases reported on May 31.

This comes just a year after Mongolia was one of four Western Pacific countries to earn this distinction of being declared measles-free. The Measles Elimination Verification Certificate from the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office requires a case-free streak of three years.

It has been 5 years since Mongolia reported a measles outbreak.

A Mongolian media report in June described the beginning of the current outbreak:

The first case of measles in this recent outbreak was reported on March 18. Thirteen days later, when the Ministry of Health held a press conference, there had been 333 suspected and 95 confirmed cases, 22 of which were diagnosed in adults. Noting that this particular strain matches a strain identified in China, the Deputy Minister of Health said, after a pause, “Even a few doctors and hospital staff contracted the disease.” Apparently, vaccinated people, children and adults alike, can get it, provided they have weak immunity and other chronic illness. What’s worse, because we hadn’t had an outbreak of measles in five years, the doctors in the health facilities were not accustomed to it. Added to all that, the fact that this was an airborne disease meant the outbreak would be quite costly. The press conference ended with the Ministry of Health promising a nation-wide vaccination between May 15 to 25, with help from the WHO regional office and UNICEF.

Other countries reporting big differences; however and fortunately in the opposite direction include the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Philippines reported more than 40,000 measles cases during this period in 2014, while seeing only 2,231 cases this year. Likewise, Vietnam reported nearly 11,000 cases last year and only 888 so far this year.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today

Follow @bactiman63