BALTIMORE (WJZ) — European health officials have released some disturbing news about the spread of measles across the entire continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there were over 21,000 cases of the dangerous virus recorded in Europe last year, four times the number recorded in 2016.

“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others,” WHO officials wrote in a Feb. 19 release. Measles is a very contagious viral infection that causes a rash over the entire body. While most cases last about two weeks, some patients can develop dangerous infections in the lungs or even brain swelling from the virus. 35 of the 21,315 cases across Europe last year were fatal.

As medical professionals urge countries in the region to have their children vaccinated against the illness, blame for the outbreak is falling on a growing anti-vaccination movement around the world. The “anti-vax” movement has claimed that vaccinations typically given to newborns and young children may cause serious side-effects; most notably was the development of autism. While physicians have discredited these claims, the number of parents not getting their children vaccinated or seeking a medical exemption continues to grow in the U.S. and abroad.

“These countries have experienced a range of challenges in recent years, such as declines in overall routine immunization coverage, consistently low coverage among some marginalized groups,” WHO added.

In Italy, where there were over 5,000 measles cases in 2017, anti-vaxxers reportedly persuaded many Italian parents from having their children immunized. The Italian government is now requiring parents to vaccinate their children against 12 common illnesses before enrolling in any state-run schools.

Only 118 cases of the measles were documented in the United States last year. According to the CDC, most of the cases were found to be in people who weren’t vaccinated.

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