Diagnosed cases of the measles have risen in parts of Europe, lowering the chances of the continent wiping out the disease by 2010, researchers say.
Vaccinations in Europe aren't as high as health officials would like
In the first nine months of 2008, 6,269 cases were reported in Europe, 85 percent of which were in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Romania.
In 2007, only 3,909 cases occurred in Europe, a major decrease from the previous year when 8,223 cases were reported.
Researchers on Wednesday, Jan. 7, said the high figures were caused by lower-than-expected immunization rates in countries such as Germany, where it is believed only around 70 percent of children were vaccinated against measles between 1996 and 2003.
In contrast, it is estimated that as many as 95 percent of people in Finland have been vaccinated against measles.
European health officials aim to have 95 percent of all European Union citizens vaccinated.
Potentially dangerous disease
The disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that triggers symptoms such as fever and sores over the body. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons and can easily be prevented by vaccination, which is usually given in early childhood.
Some measles cases can be severe
In some cases, exposure to measles can lead to further complications such as blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia.
"Measles is erroneously thought of to be a mild disease but it can cause complications, including fatal ones," said Mark Muscat, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, who led the study of 32 countries.
Measles vaccine clear for use
Health officials urged the public to make use of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, and dismissed claims the shot could lead to longer-term health problems.
"Our job is to make sure people understand the vaccine is safe even though it has received bad publicity, and we should regain confidence in the MMR vaccine," Muscat said.
The World Health Organization has a stated goal of eradicating measles from Europe by 2010. The health body says there is no specific treatment for the disease, which affects mostly children, and is especially dangerous to malnourished people with weakened immune systems.
As many as 250,000 people die every year from the measles, most of which are in poor nations. Over 2006 and 2007, the disease killed seven people in the European Union, along with Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Turkey and Croatia.