Charity warns of measles epidemic in central Africa

The non-profit medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders recently warned that a major measles epidemic is threatening the lives of thousands of children in Central Africa.

The medical charity recently said that it has vaccinated more than 226,000 children against the illness in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has also treated an additional 13,000 local residents for the effects of the infection, according to the New York Times.

Measles is considered to be highly contagious and, in the absence of medical care, can kill up to 15 percent of those infected. The situation is especially critical in the DRC because many children are malnourished and vitamin-deficient.

The region suffers from a lack of medical workers and medications. There is no treatment for those who acquire measles infection, but antibiotics can save those who develop secondary infections such as pneumonia or encephalitis. The illness itself causes fever, runny nose, cough and a body-wide rash. In Africa, measles is one of the leading causes of blindness in children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The epidemic continues despite worldwide progress against the disease. In Africa and India, overall infection rates have dropped dramatically since 2000, primarily due to the increasing availability of a preventative vaccine, New York Times reports.