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There has been a rapid expansion in the spread of measles, with reported cases jumping 300% in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to the World Health Organization.

As reasons for the increase, the organization has cited a deep mistrust of vaccines, gaps in immunization coverage and lack of access to health care facilities or routine checkups.

The highly contagious disease is caused by a virus and typically begins with a high fever and rash that can lead to complications of deafness, pneumonia, diarrhea and encephalitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although measles has become largely preventable through vaccines administered during childhood, the WHO estimated that 110,000 people, most of them children younger than 5 and living in developing countries in Africa and Asia, succumbed to it in 2017.

The world's biggest measles epidemic is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with more than 233,000 people infected this year alone, the WHO estimated. A total of 4,723 people died of it from January through October as the disease spread to all 26 provinces in the country.

The measles outbreak has gripped Congo even as the country grapples with an Ebola epidemic that has killed nearly 2,200 people.

Local and global health officials are undertaking efforts to contain both diseases amid political instability and insecurity. Yet even Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, has conceded that measles has received "little international attention," even though it has proved deadlier than Ebola.

In addition to Congo, Europe has experienced a setback in its efforts to end measles, with the disease killing 72 people in 2018. Ukraine has been the epicenter of the measles surge, with child vaccination doubts leading to an increase in the number of suspected cases in 2019, to almost 57,000 people. Global health officials are currently investigating whether Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who visited a rabbi's grave in the city of Uman, Ukraine, may have carried measles to the United States via Israel.

For 2019, more than 1,200 measles cases had been confirmed in 31 U.S. states as of last month, with the majority of them appearing in New York. The outbreak constitutes the highest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992, according to the CDC. More than 120 people have been hospitalized from measles this year. A majority of those who contracted the virus were not vaccinated.

A Section on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Measles cases on rise, WHO says

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