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CDC Report: Measles Still a Threat

On 50th anniversary of measles vaccine, spike in imported cases (December 5)

Fifty years after the approval of an effective vaccine against measles, one of the world’s most contagious diseases, the virus still poses a threat to domestic and global health security.

On an average day, 430 children — 18 every hour — die of measles worldwide. In 2011, there were an estimated 158,000 measles deaths.

In an article published Dec. 5 in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors report that U.S. measles elimination, announced in 2000, has been sustained through 2011. Elimination is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for more than 12 months. The authors warn, however, that international importation continues, and that American doctors should suspect measles in children with high fever and rash, “especially when associated with international travel or international visitors,” and should report suspected cases to the local health department.

Before the U.S. vaccination program started in 1963, measles was a year-round threat in this country. Nearly every child became infected; each year 450 to 500 people died; 48,000 were hospitalized; 7,000 had seizures; and about 1,000 experienced permanent brain damage or deafness.

Individuals infected abroad continue to spark outbreaks among pockets of unvaccinated people, including infants and young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles is still a serious illness; one in five children with measles is hospitalized. Usually there are about 60 cases per year, but 2013 saw a spike in American communities — approximately 175 cases and counting — virtually all linked to people who brought the infection home after foreign travel.

“A measles outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “The steady arrival of measles in the United States is a constant reminder that deadly diseases are testing our health security every day.”

Source: CDC; December 5, 2013.

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