Measles vaccinations need to be immediately stepped up in all age groups, the World Health Organization’s European office urged Wednesday after the region recorded 22,000 cases since the start of 2014. 

Both eastern and western Europe continue to experience large outbreaks.

Since the beginning of last year, cases include:

  • Kyrgyzstan —7,477.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina — 5,340.

  • Russian Federation  — 3,247.

  • Italy   — 1,674.

  • Germany  — 583.

WHO's European director Zsuzsanna Jakab said she was "taken aback" by the numbers.While cases in Europe and Central Asia fell by half from 2013 to 2014, the infections threaten the goal of eliminating measles there this year. 

"We must collectively respond, without further delay, to close immunization gaps," Jakab said in a statement. "It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years’ efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time."

Measles outbreaks continue to occur in Europe, WHO said, because there are pockets of susceptible people who aren't immunized or aren't fully protected by vaccination.

Earlier this week, health officials in Berlin announced a toddler died of measles. In calling for increased efforts to vaccinate children, Health Minister Hermann Groehe said authorities might consider making the shots mandatory. 

Travel also increases the risk of exposure to the highly infectious disease, which spreads in populations who are not vaccinated, public health authorities say.

Public health measures to control outbreaks also include improved surveillance to detect and investigate suspected cases, rapid testing of cases and a search for links between cases to prevent spread.

In 2014, the United States had its highest number of cases in two decades. Currently, more than 150 people have been infected, including many linked to a wave of illness that authorities believe was sparked when an infected person from out of the country visited Disneyland in late December 2014.

Lab tests show some Canadian cases of measles are related to the strain circulating in the U.S. and others are not, the Public Health Agency of Canada says. The agency calls measles relatively rare in Canada thanks to high immunization rates, adding travel-related cases will continue to occur.

Most people recover from measles within a few weeks. The infection can be serious, commonly causing diarrhea and pneumonia, and in rarer cases encephalitis and death.

With files from Reuters