Eight measles cases confirmed in Serbia in January 2023

17 January 2023
imunizacija rakovica 2019
UNICEF Srbija/2019/Pančić

Belgrade, 16 January 2023 - As of 15 January 2023, the first 8 confirmed cases of measles were reported from Smederevo, in Serbia: 5 in unvaccinated children up to 3 years of age and in two adults aged 47 and 49 years. As more testing is being conducted by Torlak, the national reference laboratory, more suspect cases are expected to be confirmed.

From the end of 2017 to June 2019, Serbia experienced a large measles outbreak, affecting 5.798 people, with 15 measles-related deaths.

To prevent transmission of measles, at least 95% of children in every district should be covered with two doses of the MMR vaccine. High vaccination coverage will protect all children, even those that are not vaccinated due to their age (younger than 1 year old) or health conditions.  

Because of gaps in immunization reported during the COVID-19 pandemic, only 74.8% of children up to two years of age in Serbia have been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine in 2021 (with some areas of the country having as low as 50 % and even 20 % vaccination rate in some municipalities), while the coverage with the second dose reached 85,8 % for preschool children.  The current situation is therefore alarming and requires a prompt and coordinated response from all stakeholders for all unvaccinated children in Serbia to get the due measles shot.

It is important to emphisize that the national health system timely detected and confirmed these first cases of measles. Now it is of critical importance to urgently implement immediate outbreak response measures, in line with national and WHO guidelines which include continuation of increased surveillance activities to detect and investigate any additional suspected case and determine the risk of further spread; immunization of susceptibles children in particular in affected population; and education and engagement of the population, among other activities.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF will continue to support the health system with routine immunization and measles outbreak response activities.

Measles is not a mild disease. It spreads quickly and with potentially severe consequences especially for babies and children under five years. The main symptoms are high temperature, runny nose, and red eyes, and rash that appear few days later. A person is infectious from four days before through four days after rash onset. In case of onset of symptoms in children, parents should immediately contact their chosen paediatrician. Infected adults should consult with their GPs. 

Immunization is universally considered one of the most successful, effective and cost-effective medical interventions and is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases. It is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. The MMR vaccine that provides protection against measles has been in use for many years, and is proven to be safe and effective in prevention and control of the diseases.

The Public Health Institute of Serbia, WHO and UNICEF call upon all parents to vaccinate their children as per the vaccination calendar to ensure that they are protected as soon as possible from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Jadranka Milanovic
Communication Officer
Tel: + 381 11 3602 104
Tel: +381 63 336 283


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