The World Health Organisation on Friday called on European countries to reverse declining immunization rates, warning that outbreaks in the region were growing.
Austria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Israel accounted for 86 percent of the 8,145 cases recorded in the WHO's European region over the past 12 months, the UN health agency said in a statement.
AdvertisementThe WHO's Copenhagen-based regional office warned that its target of eliminating of virus from Europe by 2010 could be jeopardized unless vaccination is stepped up.
"Unfortunately, in 2008 measles incidence in the Region increased from the 2007 level," said Nata Menabde, WHO deputy regional director for Europe.
"Today we have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent measles, but children still die of the disease. This needs to change."
Measles is a contagious respiratory illness characterised by high fever and the eruption of small red spots.
Its spread is largely down to the fact that children are not immunised or have received less than the required two doses of measles vaccine.
Paradoxically, the WHO pointed out, children in affluent countries have a greater risk of infection because of skepticism about immunization or the belief that the disease is not serious because it was largely under control in Western nations.
"Further, the challenges to immunization are fed by disturbing and dangerously misleading anti-vaccination advocacy campaigns," the WHO said.
A study published in the Lancet last month said the disease occurred especially among Roma, also called gypsies, as well as travelling people, immigrant families and orthodox Jews.
However, in countries like Switzerland there has been a resurgence among affluent families, including an outbreak this year that emerged from a private school where the vaccination rate was very low.
Twenty-five deaths from measles complications were reported in the WHO's European region in 2005 to 2008 and the toll has decreased over that period.
However, the WHO said the toll was believed to be "a significant underestimate" since measles deaths are often listed as being due to other causes such as pneumonia and encephalitis.