Health authorities in Nigeria 's northern Katsina state have set up treatment centers to deal with a measles epidemic which has killed nearly two hundred children in the past three months, and infected thousands. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa filed this report from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Vaccinations are being distributed across the northern Katsina state to cope with one of the worst measles outbreaks in the region in years.

Some 165 children have been killed and 3,000 cases reported in the past three months. Officials say the death toll could be much higher because many cases are going unreported.

Katsina state's director of disease control, Halliru Idris, tells VOA that the outbreak is mostly affecting young people who have not been immunized. "I can tell you that over 95 percent of all the children that have measles are those whose parents have not allowed them to receive immunization," he said.

A handful of radical Islamic clerics instigated a boycott of infant vaccinations in northern Nigeria in 2003 and 2004, alleging that immunization was a western ploy to render Muslim girls infertile. Though the dispute has been resolved, parents still tend to avoid immunization.

Many hundreds of children have died in northern Nigeria since December when the first cases of the highly contagious measles were reported in Kaduna , Kano and Jigawa states.

Idris says the outbreak in Katsina has now stabilized. "As you are talking to me now, I am in the hospital assessing and I can see that there is a big drop in the number of cases that are coming with measles. We are also embarking on another round of immunization, which will include measles vaccination," he said.

Northern Nigeria has experienced different epidemics in the past few years. The region is endemic to waterborne diseases like diarrhea and polio. The situation is aggravated by poor hygiene and sanitation.

The symptoms of measles include coughing, a runny nose, fever and a red rash. It can trigger pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

Measles has been mostly wiped out in industrial nations, thanks to vaccinations, but it remains a threat in some developing countries.

The World Health Organization estimates that about a quarter of a million people, mostly children, die each year from the disease worldwide.