Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Measles cases in Europe quadrupled in 2017 from the record low seen on the continent in 2016, the World Health Organization reports this week.
In 2017, the highly contagious disease, typified by a red rash throughout the body, affected 21,315 people and caused 35 deaths -- compared with 5,273 cases in 2016 -- WHO researchers said in a new report released Monday.
"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," Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a press release. "Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept."
The report was released ahead of Tuesday's health ministerial meeting on immunization in Montenegro.
"Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals," Jakab said. "This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all."
According to WHO, vaccinations resulted in an 84 percent drop in measles deaths worldwide from 2000 and 2016, when there was a total of 89,780 fatalities.
Last year in Europe, however, at least 100 cases were reported in 15 of the continent's 53 countries, including 5,562 in Romania, 5,006 in Italy and 4,767 in Ukraine.
In those counties, WHO said, there were declines in overall routine immunization coverage, consistently low coverage among some certain groups, interruptions in vaccine supply or underperforming disease surveillance systems.
Far fewer cases were reported in other European countries, including 967 in Greece, 927 in Germany, 702 in Serbia, 649 in Tajikistan, 520 in France, 408 in the Russian Federation, 369 in Belgium, 282 in the United Kingdom, 167 in Bulgaria, 152 in Spain, 146 in Czechia and 105 in Switzerland.
As of the end of 2016, 42 of the 53 countries reported no endemic measles transmission. Similarly, many of the larger outbreaks in Europe in 2017 were starting to decline by the end of the year, the WHO reports.
The increase has also stretched to the United States, though at rates far lower than many European countries in worse situations. There were 118 people reported to have measles in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 86 in 2016.
Eleven ministers of health were expected to meet Tuesday to consider methods of reaching goals set out in the European Vaccine Action Plan by 2020 to eliminate measles and rubella.
Among the methods available for accomplishing that goal are raising public awareness, immunizing health care professionals and other adults at particular risk, addressing challenges in access, and improving supply planning and logistics.