Refugees: There is a lot of unjustified fear related to importation of communicable diseases!

The big migration streams are stoking fears: Do the immigrants bring dangerous infection diseases to Europe, is one of this anxieties, which are obviously greater than the real danger. We asked Dr. Santino Severoni, Coordinator Public Health and Migration from the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Refugees suffer not only from respiratory tract infections, but also from more dangerous communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis. About the consequences for Europe the media communicate different things. But what is really about communicable diseases, and do people have real cause to worry? “There is a lot of unjustified fear related to importation of communicable diseases and refugees and migrants”, says Severoni. In spite of the common perception of an association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, there is no systematic association. The European Region has a long experience of communicable diseases such as hepatitis or measles. However, these diseases have not been eliminated and still exist in the European Region, independently of migration. That also applies for tuberculosis (TB): “This disease is already present in Europe – so it is not imported by refugees”, says Severoni.

Migrants‘ risk for being infected or developing TB depends on many things such as the TB incidence in their country of origin or the way they travelled to Europe. People with severe forms of infectious TB are often not fit to travel. The incidence of TB in the countries of origin varies from as low as 17 new cases per 100 000 population in Syria to 338 in Nigeria. The average TB rate in the European Region is 39 per 100 000 population. TB is not often transmitted from migrants to the resident population because of limited contact.