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The number of cases reported is "the highest this decade", World Health Organization said in a statement, noting that the numbers are "3 times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016".

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can sometimes lead to serious health complications, including infections of the lungs and brain.

"Outbreaks of measles in popular tourist destinations mean the risk for measles being imported into Australia at the moment is high", said Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health. "The recommended two doses of the measles vaccine provide even greater protection - 97 percent".

In the US, 79 cases of measles have been reported so far this year - already one-fifth of last year's total.

There were 72 recorded deaths from measles across Europe in 2018 and 82,596 people contracted the disease.

Statewide in Washington, orders for measles vaccine jumped about 30 percent in January compared with the same month past year, climbing from 12,140 doses to 15,780 doses, figures showed.

A report published by the European Commission a year ago and compiled by a team led by Larson found that measles immunization coverage has fallen in 12 EU countries since 2010, and that seven out of the 10 countries with the lowest vaccine confidence in the world are in Europe.

"The measles vaccine isn't ideal, but one dose is 93 percent effective at preventing illness", said Dr. Alan Melnick of the Clark County Public Health Department. While data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease.

In many countries, anti-vaccine campaigners seek to dissuade parents from getting their children immunized, despite strong scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective.

"We can not achieve healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO's vision for the coming five years, if we do not work locally".

The WHO says the 2018 surge in measles cases followed a year when European countries achieved their highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of the measles vaccination - 90%. "We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided".

Experts agree vaccination coverage needs to be around 95 per cent to prevent the virus circulating in communities - so-called "herd immunity". "I wish it didn't take an outbreak, and one child already being hospitalized, to get vaccination rates up", said Melnick.

There was also a five-fold rise in measles cases in the United Kingdom in 2018.