Germ outbreak the next refugee risk

AMSTERDAM • Having survived perilous escapes from war zones, refugees find themselves assailed anew in Europe by germs proliferating in crowded, insanitary camps that could become outbreak hot spots, experts have warned.

The refugees, weakened by physical exhaustion, a lack of safe food, clean water and medicine, are prime targets for entirely preventable diseases that can scar, maim, even kill.

Most of these illnesses have long been relegated to Europe's past: scabies, measles, tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid fever, concerned doctors and academics told a conference of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases over the weekend.

But several have now re-emerged, wreaking havoc among Europe's bulging migrant settlements, from where they could regain a foothold in the broader population.

"Maybe there is a problem in the future," warned Turkish infectious disease specialist Hakan Leblebicioglu. "Regarding tuberculosis... polio and measles, these should be considered an emerging threat especially for the refugees, the region, and maybe Europe," he said.

More and more refugees will arrive from countries where such illnesses remain widespread.

This while a growing anti-vaccine movement in Europe has left "gaps in vaccination coverage", according to Professor Leblebicioglu, and resistance to antibiotics is a growing concern.

According to refugee agencies, more than a million migrants arrived in the EU last year, and almost 180,000 so far this year - many risking life and limb to cross the ocean in shoddy boats for a long shot at a better life.

Experts presented evidence of disease outbreaks in refugee camps: measles in France and Turkey, scabies in the Netherlands, salmonella in Germany, and MRSA - a drug-resistant skin infection - in Switzerland.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'Germ outbreak the next refugee risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe