Europe is facing a “dramatic increase” in measles infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. Countries are urged to boost immunisation.

The health agency said measles outbreaks have killed at least 37 people in the European region so far this year. It said more than 41,000 children and adults were infected with the highly contagious disease between January and June. This is above the number of total cases in any other year over the past decade.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement.

“We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunization.”

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, the Copenhagen-based WHO said a main reason for the surge in infections was a drop in routine immunisation coverage among marginalised groups in some countries.

France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine all recorded more than 1,000 measles cases in the first half of 2018. Ukraine was hardest-hit, with 23,000 infections. The most fatalities were reported in Serbia, where 14 people died.

In a separate report, the BBC noted that officials in the UK say the outbreaks in England are largely due to people who have travelled to areas of mainland Europe that have had outbreaks.

In England, there have been 807 laboratory confirmed measles cases, according to Public Health England (PHE). The highest numbers have been seen in London (281), South East (166), South West (139), West Midlands (84) and Yorkshire and Humberside (75).

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children.”