Measles cases worldwide have nearly tripled in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
The highly-contagious disease can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but experts have in recent months sounded the alarm over declining vaccination rates.
The number is “the highest [registered] since 2006,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
The rapidly-growing figure is especially worrying since only about one in 10 actual measles cases is believed to be reported worldwide, according to the WHO.
Measles cases have soared around the world, with the African region seeing a 900-percent jump in cases year-on-year, while cases rose 230 percent in the western Pacific.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar and Ukraine registered the highest number of cases, while Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan and Thailand have all seen major outbreaks of the disease.
The United States has registered 1,164 cases so far this year, compared with 372 for all of 2018 and the highest number on record in a quarter-century.
And in the European region, nearly 90,000 cases have been registered this year – well above the 84,462 cases recorded last year.
Meanwhile, in Madagascar, which registered around 127,500 cases during the first half of this year alone, numbers have dropped considerably in recent months following an emergency national vaccination campaign, the WHO said.
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Measles – an airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases – had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems.
But the so-called anti-vax movement – driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, to a risk of autism in children – has gained traction.
The WHO pointed out that the reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries, with a lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services hindering some from getting the jabs, while others are led astray by “misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate”.
The measles vaccine is a “safe and highly effective vaccine”, the health agency said, urging “everyone to ensure their measles vaccinations are up to date”.
Uneven vaccination coverage and gaps and disparities between communities, geographic areas, and among age-groups have allowed measles to flourish even in countries with high national vaccine rates, WHO warned.
“When enough people who are not immune are exposed to measles, it can very quickly spread,” it said.