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Measles Virus Races Through Northwest Cameroon

FILE - A child receives a measles vaccine in a camp set up by the UNHCR in Nangungue, Cameroon, April 12, 2013.

FILE - A child receives a measles vaccine in a camp set up by the UNHCR in Nangungue, Cameroon, April 12, 2013.

A measles epidemic is sweeping through northwestern Cameroon, with reports of more than 300 children infected and several deaths in just a week.

Dr. Sama Julius of the expanded immunization program in northwestern Cameroon said the epidemic got its start because people were refusing to vaccinate their children.

"The cases that died was because the measles was compounded by malnutrition," Julius said. "Parents are failing in our responsibility of ensuring that these children are protected from these diseases, because the government is providing the vaccines free of charge and we have then the responsibility to take these children to the health facilities for the vaccines and we neglect it."

Cameroon's Ministry of Public Health reported that only 20 percent of the population seeks medical attention in conventional health centers. Consequently, many more children may have been caught up in the epidemic.

Dr. Nolna Desire, deputy permanent secretary at the expanded immunization program, said teams had been deployed to all the affected areas to make sure all children are vaccinated. He said the vaccination teams would visit markets, churches and other public places to vaccinate children.

Desire said parents should know that the measles vaccines have been recommended by the World Health Organization because they are efficient and of good quality. He said all parents should immediately take their children to vaccination centers to boost their immunity to a disease that can have life-threatening consequences.

The last time Cameroon reported a measles outbreak was from February 2010 to July 2011, when 37 of the country's 179 health districts were affected.

Measles is caused by a virus that is spread through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. The measles virus is highly contagious and can remain in the air, ready to infect, for up to two hours.

In June, Cameroon announced it had begun a mass vaccination program to combat a measles epidemic after an outbreak was declared in seven health districts in the capital, Yaounde. It has now extended to the northwestern part of the Central African nation.