GENEVA — Global measles cases are rising for the third year in a row, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday in Geneva, reporting that recorded cases between January and March were 300 percent higher than in the same period last year.
In the first quarter of the year, 170 countries reported some 112,000 infections, up from 28,000 in the first quarter of 2018. However, actual numbers are likely to be 10 times as high, as only a fraction of cases are reported, according to the U.N. health agency.
Although the disease could be prevented if 95 percent of the population were immunized, the WHO reported that global coverage for the first dose of the two-step vaccination has stalled at 85% for several years.
Global coverage for the second dose is only 67 percent.
Nearly a quarter of measles patients are hospitalized with complications that can lead to disabilities, brain damage, blindness and hearing loss.
Countries with high numbers of infections in the past six months include Madagascar with 70,000 cases, Ukraine with 49,000, the Philippines with 8,800 and Venezuela with 5,700.
Millions of children have been immunized in Madagascar and the Philippines to curb the outbreaks.
Several Southern and Eastern European countries including Albania, Serbia and Montenegro have some of the world’s highest measles rates — from around 300 to 470 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the WHO.
Infections have also increased in wealthy countries with high overall immunization rates, such as the United States and Israel.
Measles killed nearly 110,000 people in 2017, according to the latest available fatality numbers.