Measles deaths worldwide fell by 74 per cent between 2000 and 2007, with dramatic improvements in some Middle Eastern and African countries, health authorities said in reports Friday.

Deaths from measles fell from an estimated 750,000 in 2000, the year before an international vaccination campaign began, to 197,000 in 2007, the Measles Initiative said. Project partners include the UNICEF, WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that is easily spread from person to person by droplets and direct contact with nasal and throat secretions of an infected person. A measles vaccine has been available since 1963.

The Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, cut measles deaths by 90 per cent between 2000 and 2007 — reaching that UN goal three years ahead of the 2010 target date.

"We're incredibly encouraged by this level of success. We know what countries can achieve. But as deaths decrease, people often tend to move on to other things thinking the problem is solved, which it is not," said United Nations Foundation children's health official Andrea Gay.

Most of the 23.3 million infants worldwide who did not get a first dose last year lived in India and seven other nations: Nigeria, China, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bangladesh, officials said.

Measles deaths are rare in developed countries, but authorities have noticed increases in cases in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In May, public health officials in Toronto urged people born in 1970 until 1995 to make sure they are properly vaccinated against measles because they likely received only one vaccination shot. Two doses are needed for full protection. Health officials in Montreal gave a similar warning last year.

People born before 1970 likely gain protection by having measles in childhood.

A person with measles can infect others from four days before to four days after the onset of rash.

People who get measles generally recover fully after 10 days of sickness, but the effects can be more severe for infants, the elderly and pregnant women.

With files from Associated Press, Reuters