Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Measles deaths in Nepal: estimating the national case–fatality ratio

Anand B Joshi, Elizabeth T Luman, Robin Nandy, Bal K Subedi, Jayantha BL Liyanage & Thomas F Wierzba

Objective

To estimate the case–fatality ratio (CFR) for measles in Nepal, determine the role of risk factors, such as political instability, for measles mortality, and compare the use of a nationally representative sample of outbreaks versus routine surveillance or a localized study to establish the national CFR (nCFR).

Methods

This was a retrospective study of measles cases and deaths in Nepal. Through two-stage random sampling, we selected 37 districts with selection probability proportional to the number of districts in each region, and then randomly selected within each district one outbreak among all those that had occurred between 1 March and 1 September 2004. Cases were identified by interviewing a member of each and every household and tracing contacts. Bivariate analyses were performed to assess the risk factors for a high CFR and determine the time from rash onset until death. Each factor’s contribution to the CFR was determined through multivariate logistic regression. From the number of measles cases and deaths found in the study we calculated the total number of measles cases and deaths for all of Nepal during the study period and in 2004.

Findings

We identified 4657 measles cases and 64 deaths in the study period and area. This yielded a total of about 82 000 cases and 900 deaths for all outbreaks in 2004 and a national CFR of 1.1% (95% confidence interval, CI: 0.5–2.3). CFR ranged from 0.1% in the eastern region to 3.4% in the mid-western region and was highest in politically insecure areas, in the Ganges plains and among cases < 5 years of age. Vitamin A treatment and measles immunization were protective. Most deaths occurred during the first week of illness.

Conclusion

To our knowledge, this is the first CFR study based on a nationally representative sample of measles outbreaks. Routine surveillance and studies of a single outbreak may not yield an accurate nCFR. Increased fatalities associated with political insecurity are a challenge for health-care service delivery. The short period from disease onset to death and reduced mortality from treatment with vitamin A suggest the need for rapid, field-based treatment early in the outbreak.

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