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Measles cases in United States at highest point in 20 years

Characteristic red, raised rash that happens in measles
Characteristic red, raised rash that happens in measles
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Between January 1 and May 23 or this year, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 228 cases of measles in the United States. This is the largest number of U.S. measles cases in one period in 20 years.

Almost all of the measles cases in 2014 have been linked to international travel by people who are not vaccinated against the infectious disease.

“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases. “Many of the (infected groups of people) in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.”

Of the 288 cases, 280 (97 percent) were associated with visiting at least 18 countries, the CDC reports. More than one in seven cases has led to hospitalization. Ninety percent of all measles cases in the United States were in people who weren't vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. Among the U.S. residents who were not vaccinated, 85 percent weren't vaccinated for religious, philosophical, or personal reasons.

The large number of measles cases this year indicates the importance of vaccination. Health care providers are being urged to ensure that all their patients are up to date on vaccinations; especially, before international travel. They also need to be alert to the possibility of measles and be familiar with the signs and symptoms so they can detect cases early.

“Many U.S. health care providers have never seen or treated a patient with measles because of the nation’s robust vaccination efforts and our rapid response to outbreaks,” said Schuchat.

Signs of measles include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • pink eye

If healthcare providers suspect a patient has measles, the CDC urges them to immediately isolate the patient at home to help prevent the disease from spreading, immediately report the case to their local health department, and collect specimens for blood and viral testing.

Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. In the United States in 2011, 38 percent of children younger than five years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital.

For some children, measles can lead to pneumonia. It can also cause lifelong brain damage, deafness, and even death. One to three out of 1,000 children in the U.S. who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best care. About 150,000 to 175,000 people die from measles each year around the world—mostly in places where children do not get the measles vaccine.

The CDC reports that before the measles vaccination program started in 1963:

• About 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States.
• Each year, about 48,000 people were hospitalized.
• About 1,000 suffered brain damage or became deaf.
• And 450 died because of measles.

The CDC recommends that all infants and young children receive two doses of a measles vaccine (which also includes protection against mumps and rubella) starting at age 12 months. If traveling internationally, the CDC recommends that all U.S. residents older than six months receive the vaccine before traveling internationally.