The Ebola epidemic in West Africa could worsen another epidemic — this one involving measles, researchers said Thursday. And it could kill 5,000 kids.
They predict the number of measles cases in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia will nearly double, from 127,000 a year now to 227,000. Already-teetering health care systems have been virtually destroyed by the Ebola epidemic, which has infected about 24,000 people and killed 10,000 of them.
As many as 5,000 children could die in this new resurgence of measles, predicts the team at Princeton, Britain’s University of Southampton and Johns Hopkins University.
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"The disruption in recent months has led to a pool of unvaccinated children building up across West Africa — leaving them susceptible to measles and opening the door to a large increase in cases,” said Andy Tatem, a geographer at the University of Southampton who worked on the study published in the journal Science.
The three countries have already struggled to vaccinate kids against childhood diseases such as measles, and vaccination rates have fallen by 75 percent because of Ebola. The researchers project that more than 1.1 million children will miss their vaccines, compared with 778,000 before Ebola hit.
Measles epidemics often follow humanitarian crises because the virus is the most infectious known. There’s an ongoing epidemic in the Philippines, for instance, following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
At latest count, the Philippines had more than 58,000 cases of measles. The virus has spread around the world from there, including to the United States.
In West Africa, vaccination against meningitis, tuberculosis and polio has also been disrupted by Ebola and work to fight HIV and malaria has also been damaged.
-- Maggie Fox