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Deaths From Measles Outbreak 'Quadrupled' In Europe Last Year

A young measles patient is hospitalized in Ukraine's Odesa region.

The number of deaths caused by measles in Europe quadrupled to 35 last year, the European regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported.

A total of 21,315 measles cases were recorded in 2017 in Europe, compared to 5,273 cases the year before, the WHO office said in a report released on February 19.

Ukraine, with 4,767 measles cases, was among the three countries most affected by the outbreak, along with Romania and Italy, WHO said.

Those three countries have experienced a range of challenges, WHO said, including declines in routine immunizations, low coverage among some marginalized groups, and interruptions in vaccine supply.

The Copenhagen-based agency said large outbreaks of the disease -- defined as 100 or more cases -- affected 15 of the 53 countries in the region.

It said large outbreaks occurred in Serbia, which reported 702 measles cases last year, Tajikistan with 649 cases, and Russia with 408 cases.

"Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated," Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said.

Measles is a highly contagious disease. It is spread by coughing, sneezing, close personal contact, or direct contact with infected nose or throat secretions. The most vulnerable victims of the disease include unvaccinated young children and pregnant women, according to WHO.

Other countries with large outbreaks in 2017 were Greece (967 cases), Germany (927), France (520), Belgium (369), Britain (282), Bulgaria (167), Spain (152), Czech Republic (146), and Switzerland (105).

Measures to contain outbreaks include raising public awareness and immunizing health-care professionals, WHO said.

With reporting by dpa