The World Health Organization warned Tuesday of large measles outbreaks in countries where immunization has dropped, after more than 500 cases of the highly contagious disease were reported across Europe in January.
“With steady progress towards elimination over the past two years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” the agency’s regional director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said in a statement.
“Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus,” she said.
The respiratory disease, characterized by high fever and small red spots, usually triggers only mild symptoms, but it remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally.
When severe complications occur, they can lead to miscarriage in pregnant women, brain swelling, or the risk of death by pneumonia.
The virus is spread by coughing and sneezing, and by close contact with infected individuals.
France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Poland, Switzerland and Ukraine were the most affected, accounting for 474 of the 559 cases reported for January.
In these countries, national vaccination levels against the virus are below the 95 percent threshold considered necessary for protecting the entire population.
Preliminary figures for February indicate that the number of new infections is rising sharply, the WHO said.