A girl in Lapaivka village, Ukraine, is vaccinated against measles during an epidemic in her country that has seen over 25,000 people fall ill to the disease in the first two months of this year. Photo by Yurko Dyachyshyn/UNICEF
May 8 (UPI) -- More than 34,000 people in Europe have been infected with measles during the first two months of this year and the outbreak will persist if authorities don't implement measures to vaccinate vulnerable populations, the World Health Organization said.
During the first two months of 2019, some 34,300 measles cases had been reported in 42 European countries, with some 25,000 cases reported in Ukraine, representing a three-fold increase from the 11,400 cases reported during the same time last year, WHO said in a statement.
Among the infected this year, 13 people were reported to have died from the disease in Albania, Romania and Ukraine.
WHO warned in a statement Monday that public health worldwide will continue to be at risk until the ongoing outbreaks are controlled.
It said the disease, which has seen a worldwide resurgence in recent years with outbreaks currently in the United States and other wealthy countries, will continue to infect "more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread to additional countries within and beyond the region if more people aren't vaccinated," stating that at least 95 percent of individuals within a population need to be immune to ensure the community is protected.
"As long as measles continues to circulate anywhere in the world, no country can avoid importation, but they can protect their populations through high routine and supplemental immunization coverage of susceptible individuals," WHO said in a statement, adding that there is no antiviral treatment for measles and vaccination is the only preventable measure.
Of the 53 countries within the WHO European Region, only 11 did not report a single measles case in the first two months of 2019, WHO said.
"Every opportunity should be used to vaccinate susceptible children, adolescents and adults," WHO said. "Measles-containing vaccines should also be recommended for a susceptible person intending to travel to countries where measles is endemic and where outbreaks are ongoing."
WHO's call for action comes as the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 764 cases of measles had been reported in the country in 2019, with outbreaks in New York, Michigan, New Jersey, California, Georgia and Maryland.
"These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring," the CDC said.
The nearly 800 cases is the highest number experienced in the country since the disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.