(UPI) — The number of measles cases in Europe has rapidly accelerated this year and 37 people have died, the World Health Organization said Monday.

More than 41,000 children and adults in the 53-nation WHO European Region were infected with measles in the first six months of 2018, a figure exceeding the annual total for every year in the current decade.

The figure surpasses the nearly 24,000 for all of 2017, a WHO statement said.

Ukraine is responsible for 23,000 cases, or over half, and six other countries — France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia and Serbia — reported more than 1,000 measles infections. All have also reported measles-related deaths.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe. “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease.”

Measles is a contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. It is rare in the United States because of the popularity of immunization. Deaths can occur due to weakening of immune systems.

Progress toward eliminating the disease is uneven, the WHO said. While 43 countries have “interrupted the endemic spread of measles,” other countries practice “inadequate disease surveillance and low immunization coverage.”

Copyright 2018 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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