At the same time, Spanish cucumbers have spread E. coli to hundreds in Germany, and more in Sweden, Denmark, and the U.K.
Both measles and E. coli outbreaks are seemingly innocuous, but can be fatal. What’s going on?
Measles has always been a highly contagious illness. And although we’ve developed a vaccine to present it, that hasn’t turned it into just a memory, like smallpox is.
In Charlottesville, Va., the health department said Thursday that it was dealing with its first measles outbreak since 1990, as a result of a woman who had contracted the disease in India and passed it along to two other people, and possibly more.
In England and Wales, more than 330 cases of measles have been reported in the first three months of 2011 – nearly as many as the whole of last year.
In mid-April, the World Health Organization warned of more than 6,500 cases of measles in 33 countries, with France having the worst outbreak at almost 5,000 cases.
Mary Ramsay, head of the British Health Protection Agency's immunization department, explained the outbreak to the Guardian this way:
“Although MMR [measles, mumps and rubella] coverage has improved over the last few years, we cannot stress enough that measles is serious and, in some cases, it can be fatal...it is crucial that individuals who may be at risk are fully immunized.”
Meanwhile, in Germany, a national outbreak of E.coli has killed two people and infected 274 others, according to Bloomberg.
Two batches of imported Spanish organic cucumbers have been identified as the culprits of the outbreak, according to the European Commission. Eighteen cases of infection have also been found in Sweden, Denmark, the U.K., and the Netherlands.
In the Andalusia region of Spain, where the cucumbers originated, producers have stopped selling.
German news site the Local identified just why this outbreak was so scary: “We know every time we get behind the wheel of a car that we are taking a small risk. We don't, on the other hand, expect to die from eating a cucumber.”
German regional daily newspaper the Rheinesche Post focused instead on the need for more inspections and regulations on food. “There is only one way to protect consumers from unhealthy food,” the paper wrote. “Checks, checks and more checks.”
What can be learned from Thursday’s outbreaks? The ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin may have said it best when he told firefighters in the late 1700s: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”