UNITED NATIONS, March 28 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said that the measles outbreak across Europe this winter threatens the progress toward the elimination of the disease, Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, told reporters here.
"Measles continues to spread within and among European countries, with the potential to cause large outbreaks wherever immunization coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95 percent," Haq said at a daily news briefing here.
"The largest current outbreaks in Europe are taking place in Romania and Italy," Haq said.
More than 500 measles cases were reported for January 2017 in the WHO European Region, the UN health agency said.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause potentially serious illness. As measles remains endemic in most parts of the world, it can spread to any country, including those that have eliminated the disease.
The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts four to seven days.
The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 134,200 people died from measles in 2015 -- mostly children under the age of five.
Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.
Accelerated immunization activities have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths. During 2000-2015, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.3 million deaths.
Global measles deaths have decreased by 79 percent from an estimated 651,600 in 2000 to 134,200 in 2015, WHO said.