The World Health Organization revealed in a statement issued on Tuesday, March 28, of high number of measles cases that were reported in the European region.

The agency issued a warning as measles outbreaks hit countries in Europe that have suffered from drop in immunization rates. Over 500 cases of the infectious disease were reported across Europe in January this year.

Highly Contagious Measles

Measles is a respiratory disease marked by high fever and small red spots. Although it typically triggers mild symptoms, the disease can potentially lead to serious illness and even death. The virus is still one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide.

Severe complications linked to the disease include brain swelling, pneumonia and miscarriage in pregnant women who get infected by the virus.

The measles pathogen spreads through sneezing, coughing and close contact with those infected. In the United States, the measles virus is commonly brought by travelers or those from other countries.

Countries Most Hit By Measles In Europe

The most affected in Europe's measles outbreak were France, Poland, , Italy, Germany, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine, where 474 of the 550 cases that were reported in January occurred.

Declining immunization rates appear to be behind high cases in these countries most impacted by the outbreak, where the national vaccination rates against the contagious virus are below the 95 percent threshold needed to protect the entire population.

"Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunisation needed to fully protect their populations," WHO regional director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab said in a statement.

Poverty And The Anti-Vaccination Movement

Preliminary figures for February suggest that new cases of infection also rise sharply. The largest outbreaks currently occur in Italy and Romania.

In Romania, the outbreak has already killed 17 children and infected thousands since September. The high rate of measles outbreak here is blamed on poverty and the anti-vaccination movement.

WHO said that many poor people in poor countries do not have access to the vaccine which costs about $1 but in affluent countries, children get higher risk of infection because of skepticism about immunization.

Italy's health ministry said last week that the number of measles cases in the country rose by threefold this year largely because parents do not get their children vaccinated over fears of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

Health experts have long assured that vaccines are safe but the idea that autism is linked to some of the vaccines that children get continues to persist.

"Some people have had concerns that ASD might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Anjali Jain, author of a 2015 study that looked at the vaccination records and health data of more than 95,000 children to find an association between MMR and autism, said that parents who already have a child with autism are more vulnerable to believing the autism link of vaccination.

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