France fears measles epidemic after hundreds of new cases

Health authorities fear that France could be facing a measles epidemic after a dramatic increase in the number of people afflicted by the highly contagious disease that last month killed a Frenchwoman who hadn't been vaccinated.

France fears measles epidemic after hundreds of new cases
A doctor administers a measles vaccination. Photo: AFP

The current outbreak began in the Bordeaux region last November and since then 913 cases have been registered, said the national health authority (DGS), with more than 500 of them in the last month alone.

The departments of the Gironde and Vienne have seen the greatest numbers of measles cases, with the south west particularly badly hit.

A 32-year-old woman died last month in a hospital in the town of Poitiers from the disease, which causes skin rash and flu-like symptoms and can affect people of all ages, despite being considered primarily a childhood illness.

Only 519 cases of measles were registered for the whole of 2017.

The current trend “makes us fear an epidemic of considerable importance such as the one we observed in France between 2008 and 2012,” DGS director Jérôme Salomon told reporters.

Around 24,000 cases were registered in that outbreak, according to official figures.

The numbers then dropped spectacularly, with less than 400 cases a year between 2013 and 2015.

“The elimination of measles is a top priority for the World Health Organisation… To achieve that it is necessary to reach the goal of vaccinating 95 percent of people at risk,” said Salomon.

In France no department in the country has reached the 95 percent vaccination rate, health authorities say.

According to doctors the problem is that many in France – potentially up to one million – did not receive the necessary second injection of the MMR vaccination (Measles Mumps and Rubella). 

“This second dose is necessary for the elimination of the disease because between 7% and 8% of children do not react to the administration of the first vaccine,” the doctor Daniel Lévy-Bruhl told Le Monde newspaper.

The people at greatest risk in France are those born after 1980, the year in which cases of the disease dropped dramatically, officials said. Most of this group have probably already had the measles, which used to afflict hundreds of thousands of children each year in France, and are now immune.

After the 32-year-old woman died in hospital in Poitiers hospital chiefs enforced a rule that all members of the public entering the emergency wards must wear a mask. Some 54 members of staff have had to be vaccinated.

Authorities are worried that the rate of vaccinations in the south western Nouvelle-Acquitane region is too low to cope with the epidemic. 

It is believed between 70 and 81 percent of the public are vaccinated in the region.

Measles has been officially wiped out in the United States due to a vaccination programme put in place over recent decades.

France’s plans to eliminate the disease include making anti-measles injections one of the eight new vaccinations that became obligatory for all children born since January 1 this year.




France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.