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CDC Report: Measles Cases in U.S. Reach 20-Year High

Agency urges vaccination as summer travel season approaches

A total of 288 cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. between January 1 and May 23, 2014, according to a new report. This is the largest number of measles cases in the U.S. reported in the first 5 months of a year since 1994. Nearly all of the measles cases this year have been associated with international travel by unvaccinated people.

“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 it to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases. “Many of the clusters 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%) were associated with importations from at least 18 countries. More than one in seven cases has led to hospitalization. Ninety percent of all measles cases in the U.S. were in people who were not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. Among the U.S. residents who were not vaccinated, 85% cited religious, philosophical, or personal reasons.

Patients who present with fever and rash along with cough, runny nose, or pink eye should be evaluated for measles, especially if the patient is unvaccinated and has recently traveled internationally or was exposed to someone else who has measles or recently traveled. If health care providers suspect that a patient has measles, they should immediately isolate the patient to help prevent the disease from spreading; immediately report the case to their local health department; and collect specimens for serology and viral testing.

Timely vaccination is the best way to prevent measles, the CDC says. Infants and young children are at high risk of getting a serious case of measles. The CDC recommends two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for everyone, starting at the age of 12 months. For those travelling internationally, the agency recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.

Measles is a serious respiratory disease that is highly contagious. Anyone who is not protected against the disease is at risk, especially if they travel internationally. Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Worldwide, an estimated 20 million people get measles and 122,000 die from the disease each year. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, meaning that there was no longer continuous measles transmission for more than 12 months.

Source: CDC; May 29, 2014.

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