Measles killed 35 children in Europe in the last year, in what the World Health Organization is calling an “unacceptable tragedy.”
The deaths are a threefold increase since 2016, when it caused the deaths of 13 children in Europe. In 2015, the disease killed three, CBS News reports. Measles is highly contagious, but is preventable through vaccines.
The UN health agency said in a statement that the most recent death was a boy in Italy, age six. There have been over 3,300 cases and two deaths caused by measles in the country since June. It has also been responsible for 31 deaths in Romania.
There have been decades of medical research confirming the safety of measles vaccinations, but fears on “side effects”or “health risks” have been spreading, causing thousands of parents across Europe to avoid getting their children immunized.
In May of this year, Italy made 12 vaccines mandatory for all children, to address what the government calls “misinformation” regarding the benefits of vaccination.
The US has also seen an increase in the number of measles cases this year, with 108 already reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of mid-June. This is already more than the 70 cases reported for the whole country in 2016.
In May, Minnesota faced its worst measles outbreak in nearly 30 years, specifically in its Somali community. Most of the patients were unvaccinated Somali-American children younger than 10 years old, whose parents were misinformed about the risks of immunization. The state confirmed 48 confirmed cases in that month alone.
Measles is caused by a highly contagious virus that is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Without vaccines, doctors say that some 90% of people would fall ill when exposed to the airborne virus. Recent outbreaks have mostly been started by travelers who got the virus while abroad, then spread it to people who have not been vaccinated.