The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Friday that many European countries are seeing an unhealthy rise in the number of measles cases. Switzerland tops this list, the agency said.
"This is very concerning ... particularly in light of the WHO (World Health Organisation) aim to rid Europe of measles by 2010 ... We're moving in the wrong direction," said Ben Duncan, a spokesman for the Stockholm-based EU agency.
Measles, also called rubeola, is a highly contagious disease characterised by high fever and the eruption of small red spots that kills about one person for every 1,000 infections.
Several European countries saw a hike in measles cases last year, and the numbers have grown further so far this year, according to European Union numbers.
During the first three months last year, just under 800 measles infections were reported across the continent. That number climbed to more than 1,300 in the first quarter this year, Duncan told AFP.
"There is a significant number of Europeans who have not vaccinated against it ... In some parts of Europe, less than 80 percent of kids are being vaccinated against the disease," he said, explaining the increase.
ECDC said very few countries in Europe had reached the 95 percent measles vaccination target necessary to prevent outbreaks and eliminate the disease.
Duncan said countries in Europe's Alpine region, led by Switzerland, were home to especially strong anti-vaccination movements.
Last year, Switzerland registered 14 measles cases per 100,000 inhabitants, placing it far ahead of other countries with outbreaks like Britain and Romania, which each registered 1.6 cases per 100,000 people.
Measles cases have also been seen in France, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Spain and Norway, the ECDC said, referring to unpublished EU data.
"We want to encourage people to get vaccinated ... to make sure their children are vaccinated and for young adults who were not vaccinated when they were kids to do so now," Duncan said.
He said no measles deaths had been registered in Europe so far this year, but that a baby had died from the disease in Israel in the past month.
"People in countries where there has not been an outbreak can still be exposed" due to travel to and from areas where outbreaks exist, Duncan said.
The ECDC fears that this year's UEFA European Football Championship, to be held in two outbreak countries: Switzerland and Austria, "holds the potential for magnifying the danger," he added.