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Number of measles cases spike to 20-year high, 15 outbreaks reported

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In the first five months of this year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) received 288 reports of measles cases in the United States. This is the greatest number of cases reported this early in the year since 1994, the CDC reports in a press release issued yesterday. Most of the cases, 280 out of the 288, have been linked to unvaccinated U.S. residents who have traveled out of the country. According to the CDC, 85 percent of those infected had refused vaccination for personal, religious or philosophical reasons.

While vaccination programs in the United States has greatly reduced the threat of measles in this country, the CDC notes that the disease is still common in other parts of the world. In the recent outbreak, 29 cases were contracted in the Western Pacific — 22 of which were from the Philippines. Eight cases were attributed to South-East Asian countries, four from Europe, two from South America and one each from Canada and Pakistan.

“…imported measles virus is landing in places in the U.S. where groups of unimmunized people live. That setting gives the measles virus a welcome wagon by providing a chance for outbreaks to occur, and the larger the outbreak, the more difficult to stop.” — Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General

Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General and Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, reports in a media telebriefing, that from Jan. 1 through May 23, 15 outbreaks have been reported to the CDC. An outbreak is defined as three or more related cases. The largest outbreak is in Ohio with 138 cases. California and New York State also have experienced large outbreaks. The most serious complication reported is pneumonia; to date, there have been no deaths associated with these outbreaks.

Two factors are contributing to this rise in measles cases, says Dr. Schuchat. First, the virus is carried into the country on airplanes; second, the virus finds a “welcome wagon” in U.S. communities with large numbers of unvaccinated residents. The Ohio outbreak is occurring among Amish communities and is linked to travel to the Philippines. Large outbreaks, which are difficult to control, tend to occur in communities with like-minded individuals that neglect to get vaccinated, Schuchat notes.

While most do not consider the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine a travel vaccine, Schuchat urges anyone with international travel plans to review their vaccination history “…so you won't have measles virus boarding with you on your return home.” The MMR vaccine is given in two doses. The normal schedule is to give infants the first dose at 12 months and the second dose before the child starts school. The CDC recommends that infants that will be traveling out of the country should receive the first dose at 6 months of age.

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