The last three months have seen a measles outbreak in Europe

Between January and March of this year, more cases of measles in France have been reported than were reported in that country in all of 2010. Scientists say dipping immunization rates may be the cause.

Measles is a virus that has made a comeback in the past few years. It's relatively long incubation period of 8-12 days can give people a lot of time to wander around the world, getting other people sick. Measles distinguishes itself from a generic case of the flu or a severe cold by a characteristic red rash and spots that spread down from the head of the sufferer to the rest of the body. Although it's not considered a serious disease by most, it can develop into pneumonia or encephalitis - a swelling of brain. It hits children under the age of five hardest. They make up a large percentage of the over one hundred thousan people who die from complications due to measles every year.

Although there is not treatment for measles, other than rest and fluids, there is a vaccine. Unfortunately, vaccination rates are dipping in the developed world. The World Health Organization believes that the low rate of vaccination in people age ten to nineteen may be responsible for a widespread outbreak of measles in France. In 2010, five thousand cases of measles were reported in France. In the first three months of 2011, 4,937 have been reported. What's more, outbreaks have been reported in 33 European countries.

There are cases of measles in the United States as well. Two travelers from France, who turned out to have measles, attened a private party in a restaurant in New Jersey in early April. The Department of Health and Senior Services are advising people to seek treatment if they develop spots, a rash, a runny nose or watery eyes between now and the first of May. There has also been an outbreak of nine cases of measles near Salt Lake City, Utah.

Although there's no reason to panic, health officials in Europe and in America are urging people to get vaccinated, especially if they live with someone with a delicate immune system. Complications such as seizures and encephalitis occur in about one in every fifteen cases of children infected with measles. Since children touch everything, and put everything in their mouths, it's hard to keep them from getting the disease. The best defense is a well-vaccinated community.

Via Associated Press, South Orange Patch, the Mayo Clinic, and the Salt Lake Tribune.