The current outbreak of measles in Germany has claimed its first life in the capital, Berlin. It remains unclear how the 18-month-old child initially contracted the disease.
Berlin's Health Senator Mario Czaja (CDU) confirmed on Monday that an ifant had died from the infectious disease in the hospital on February 18.
Measles has been spreading throughout the capital since October, with an outbreak having also been reported in nearby Leipzig. In the capital alone, some 574 cases of measles have been recorded since last October, equating to the largest outbreak seen in Berlin since the introduction of a series of medical reforms with the Infection Protection Act in 2001.
Experts said earlier this month that the spike in the number of measles infections in Berlin had been traced to unvaccinated refugees. At least two cases, however, appear to have originated from the United States. Public health officials in California are also currently battling a measles outbreak.
On Monday, a secondary school in Berlin-Lichtenrade was also closed as a precautionary measure against the highly contagious disease, which, in severe cases, can be fatal.
In light of the current outbreak, a political debate over compulsory vaccination has been reignited. Whilst health officials and members of Germany's governing grand coalition have supported plans to make the MMR vaccination compulsory, the Greens and members of the Left have opposed the idea, saying that the measure would "go too far."
"Immunization skeptics can't be made to rethink by force - but instead through comprehensive, independent advisement," Katja Dörner, leader of the Bundestag's Greens fraction told German newspaper Die Welt.
According to the recommendations issued by Germany's Vaccination Committee (Stiko), children should receive their first measles vaccine between the age of 11 and 14 months. The immunization is usually given as part of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot. A second vaccination follows between 15 and 23 months of age.
Efforts by health experts to encourage immunization against measles have continued to be hampered, however, in recent years due to disputed reports suggesting that the MMR vaccine could cause autism.
The allegation was made in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, a British medical practitioner, whose study has since been withdrawn.
In Germany, the immunization rate currently lies at around 90 percent - some 5 percent below the goal set by Germany and other European countries to eradicate the disease by 2015.
ksb/gsw (dpa, AFP)